Written by: James Montague & Craig W. Sanger
Starring: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis, Greg Peyton
Discovering something extra-terrestrial in the sky can serve as both a dream for some and a nightmare for others. It presents the opportunity for finding something new but also the reality of humans not being the only competition for the most advanced species in the galaxy. With many rumors and reported sightings, it’s hard to believe what falls along reality and fiction, which The Vast of Night parses through in a thrilling and effective manner.
With most of the citizens of Cayuga, New Mexico attending the local high school basketball game, disc jockey Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick) prepare for their evening shifts at the radio station and switchboard respectively. They get alarmed when Fay hears a mysterious voice repeatedly calling the switchboard, which leads them down a rabbit hole of terror.
Precisely put together and truly ambitious in the independent sphere, The Vast of Night heavily impresses with how it tells such a tense story by showing very little. It all begins with an older television displaying this whole narrative as some episode from an off-brand Twilight Zone. It gives the impression of some strange occurrences about to take place and then it glides right in with an onslaught of whippingly quick dialogue with Everett getting the audio equipment ready for the game. He walks around the gym talking to different characters checking various forms of hardware. In this sequence, it shows young Fay wanting to show off her new tape recorder. This opening scene gets filmed in long takes but the pure speed of the dialogue delivery left me needing to rewind it a few times to fully grasp everything being said. In this carousel of words, it establishes the respect Everett has built in this small New Mexico town. The narrative then leads to Fay and Everett heading to their respective posts for the night and the mystery truly begins.
What appears to initially be prank calls on Fay turns into something a bit more uncertain with people calling in with valid concerns for which she gets Everett involved. The moments in their individual booths leave both of these actors having to do plenty of work of being the visual presence where the audio dominates what pushes the narrative forward. Strange noises and testimonials of potential extraterrestrial life begin to flood and the story switches to being incredibly tense and shows the full potential realized through filmmaking. Through hearing others speak through the radio and on the phone with the use of the switchboard, so much tension begins to build to an astronomical degree. What these two individuals thought would be a regular night has turned into a potential nightmare. While the fear certainly permeates their minds, the investigatory nature in them wants to discover if everything they are hearing does in fact lie in truth or fiction. They might not like the answer, but it does remain newsworthy if it does prove to be true.
This potential discovery drives the entire narrative as Everett and Fay go to different points in the town to either speak with people or gather the information that could help them move forward. It creates nail-biting sequences where they get asked to go to some random person’s house to conduct an interview. The information they receive gets stranger and stranger as the story moves along and none of it makes the circumstances any less unsettling. In fact, it makes things less stable and sets these characters up for a collision they do not expect.
The suspenseful build up shows as an excellent display of director Andrew Patterson. The audacity of using this much slick style to put together this story in a feature film debut deserves plenty of praise. He utilizes the engaging dialogue provided by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger to raise the temperature of the room and really make these characters sweat. He sets up wonderful opportunities for the information getting disseminated to be at the center of everything going on while guiding the actors in how they need to react. The scenes in the gym and when the characters walk the street provide such an engaging experience where the camera follows both Everett and Fay to show their true personalities.
So much more occurs in The Vast of Night to enjoy with its scintillating story done so in a simplistic but incredibly unsettling matter. It serves as a wonderful showcase for all of these talents involved and hopefully this gives them the opportunity to continue to shine in other projects. It zips right on by with its short runtime and fits the bill with exactly how it begins. A contained and assured thriller.