At some point through middle school, I made the decision to stop writing of alien invasions in my stories because I felt the theme had been played out, too well and too much; multiple times in films, TV, and literature. Made up of the same tropes, it had all been rather predictable. While my tales often ended with the protagonist waking up from a dream that may or may not have been real, theirs was a world somewhat ravaged but mostly saved. Unless it was Douglas Adams and everyone died.
In the light of these developments, the dim lighting of Andrew Patterson’s sets and the slightly furrowed brows of his two protagonists delivers a well-tailored surprise. The Vast of Night is a breath of fresh air from the hackneyed montage of the hero running while the world slowly crumbles behind him. A commendable aspect of the indie film is its sundry layers weaved meticulously into the brilliant performances from a talented cast and a 1950s aesthetic.
The film opens, playing on an old-timey television-set in a well-furnished living room, as a voice-over informs us that it is, in fact, an episode of an anthology series, the Paradox Theater. “You are entering the clandestine and forgotten, a slipstream caught between channels, the secret museum of mankind, the private library of shadows.” What an intriguing set-up, Fay. Please go on.
Without giving away too much, we are introduced to the two central characters: Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz), a charming local radio jockey at WOTW station and Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick), a sincere 16-year-old part-time switchboard operator. They are both waiting to get out of the small Cayuga town. Although things don’t go quite as planned as the two unknowingly embark on a night full of egregious and inconceivable revelations and adventure. Set in real-time, all the actions take place in one night and the screenplay by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger never gives away what is going to happen next; we only find out along with the characters as the plot naturally unfolds.
Hailing from New Mexico, all characters have a prominent accent that is hard to catch at first, especially through the fast-paced back and forth in the beginning. In these first few minutes, we learn more about the town and the two protagonists than we sometimes do in two hours. Having to lean in closer, pause and rewind, straining to fully comprehend the insignificant details shared in those conversations somehow made my experience more profound. Isn’t that what Fay essentially does as well, the first time she hears the strange sounds on the switchboard?
The art of listening is one of the major themes woven throughout the film, in its plot and the sound design itself that we as audiences get to participate in as well. The relevant social commentary on issues of race, gender, and class adds depth to the narrative. There are easter eggs scattered in different details indicating old cultural references like The War of the World, The Twilight Zone, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
There are many brilliant shots in the film like that of Fay adeptly operating the board, Everett speaking to Mrs Blanche while flanked by Bertsie and Gerald at the back as the camera unsteadily moves in closer; and the trees in the forest forming an oculus, giving the trio a view of the sky. Set against the background of the Cold War, the film expertly holds our attention even through the dialogues and monologues when the speaker is never seen. It builds up to a crescendo, assisted by the background music, and ends abruptly but adroitly as it leaves us asking numerous questions. Did this really happen or was it just a dream? Maybe it was just a fictional episode from a television series.