CERT: 15 | PLATFORM: AMAZON PRIME VIDEO | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Attracting rave advance notices thanks to screenings at a number of high profile film festivals last year, Andrew Patterson’s low-fi, low-budget old school sci-fi thriller The Vast of Night finally arrives on Amazon Prime. It might not be quite as good as its champions have been suggesting but it’s hugely entertaining, wonderfully evocative, and a welcome throwback to the early days of sci-fi cinema, reminding us of that sense of creeping fear, paranoia and general unease that permeated classics like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, The Thing from Another World, and The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Framed as an episode of a fictional Twilight Zone-like anthology series entitled Paradox Theatre, The Vast of Night takes place over a single night in the 1950s in the small New Mexico town of Cayuga. Everett (Jake Horowitz) is a DJ at a local radio station, Fay (Sierra McCormick) operates the switchboard. With everyone else attending a high school basketball game, Fay picks up a strange signal through the switchboard. She plays it to Everett who is broadcasting on the radio. Neither of them can identify the sound so he throws it open to his listeners and invites calls from anyone who might be able to cast some light on its provenance. As luck would have it the first call he receives is from someone who is very familiar with the sound. He’s heard it before, years ago. He knows what it means and he knows what’s coming…
Self-financed by Patterson with a budget significantly under a million dollars, The Vast of Night is a triumph of raw, lean filmmaking. This is a film that just drips atmosphere and tension. Opening with an extraordinary tracking shot that follows Everett and Kay around the bustling gymnasium, out into the deserted streets, and finally into their separate workplaces – the dialogue is dense, scattergun, and frequently hard to keep up with – the film finds its groove as it settles down and starts to explore the mystery that is its beating heart.
A charming love letter to low-budget genre filmmaking, The Vast of Night puts character and plot above spectacle (although it doesn’t skimp in delivering one key money shot) and, as we twiddle our thumbs waiting for our usual diet of summer blockbusters to come racing out of global lockdown, it’s a timely reminder that sometimes the simplest ideas and the tiniest budgets can create something very special and hugely enjoyable.