Set in the 1950s, in the fictional town of Cayuga, New Mexico, The Vast of Night is a low-budget sci-fi mystery very much in the style of a Twilight Zone episode. We begin by watching an old black and white TV set of the era, while a voiceover narrates the show being screened on it – Paradox Theater. As we get closer to the fuzzy screen, we travel inside it, and the story begins.
There’s a fair bit of quick-fire dialogue to kick things off, so be sure to pay attention. Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz), the local motormouth radio DJ, is working to setup recording equipment in order to capture the commentary for a basketball game which is soon to take place in the school gym. Much of the towns residents are on their way to watch the game and Everett will be presenting his usual show from the radio station, with the recorded commentary set to air the following day. He therefore needs to make sure everything is running smoothly.
As he prepares to leave the school, he meets up with teenage switchboard operator Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) and the pace then slows down considerably, switching to a more simple and lengthy conversation style which remains with us throughout the remainder of the movie. Fay wants to test out her new tape recorder, so Everett coaches her in interviewing techniques while they enthusiastically discuss scientific advances in areas such as driverless cars and handheld TVs.
They go their separate ways and we join Fay as she goes to work at the telephone exchange. But, it’s not long until Fay picks up on a strange set of noises which begin interfering with her telephone calls, coinciding with locals calling the police to report strange incidents. Fay records the noises and calls Everett at the radio station to see if he can put them out on air and get people to call in if they can identify it.
And that’s basically the story. We spend long periods of time in single locations, with long stretches of dialogue between our main characters – from radio station callers and an old local widow with an interesting story to tell. There’s talk of shady military activity and “people in the sky”, who get inside the heads of towns people, all adding layers to the mystery. With most of the town watching the basketball game, there’s a real eerie feel to the abandoned town late at night, helped by an incredible tracking shot midway through, which takes us from Fay, through the dark abandoned streets, into and around the crowds at the basketball game, then back out again before arriving at Everett in the radio station. It’s occasional moments like this which break up the dialogue and really help to make this movie shine.
The Vast of Night is a real love letter to 50s sci-fi and b-movies. There’s no CGI or action heavy moments, and the long periods of one-take dialogue won’t be for everyone. However, there’s no denying that it is a beautifully made movie, especially for one on a smaller budget. Special mention too for the wonderful classical score, which I noticed on more than one occasion, and really helped maintain the feeling of unease and anticipation.