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The Vast of Night (2019)

Directed by: Andrew Patterson

Written by: Andrew Patterson (as James Montague) & Craig W. Sanger

Starring: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with UFOs. I’d read any book about them I could find in my local library. I would watch Invaders From Mars, The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds – any 1950s UFO movie. There were awful short stories I’d scribble in notepads about aliens landing in the market square of the town where I lived. When my brother, who I shared a bedroom with, was asleep I’d watch out of the window, hoping to see otherworldly lights silently glide through the night skies.

I don’t know what I’d do if they ever did land in my garden looking for first contact. Probably shit myself. I may have been a fantastical child, wide-eyed with wonder, but I was also a coward. They wouldn’t probe a 10-year-old, would they?

And it’s that mixture of curiosity and fear that pervades The Vast of Night, the debut feature from Andrew Patterson picked up by Amazon. It’s what Discount Robots and Time Machines is all about. Low of budget and high of concept, Patterson has served up a UFO movie of my childhood dreams for less than 700,000 of your Earth dollars.

Framed as an episode of a Twilight Zone-esque ’50s TV show called Paradox Theatre (no, I’m not spelling it the American way and you can’t make me), events unfold over one night in the small town of Cayuga, New Mexico. It’s the night of the big high school basketball game and it seems like Fay (Sierra McCormick) and Everett (Jake Horowitz) are the only two people in town working. She at the town’s switchboard, he at the local radio station WOTW (geddit?)

Soon, though, in a wonderfully acted 10-minute long single take, Fay starts picking up strange signals over the phone lines, answering calls from people seeing objects in the sky and wondering whether there’s something weird going on in her backwater town. When a caller to Everett’s radio show says he knows what the signals might be, they start digging into a conspiracy that may have life-changing consequences.

So, yes, weird goings-on in small-town America. We’ve been here before. But it’s all done with a distinct style, sense of time and place, and bravura skills behind the camera. This is the director Patterson introducing himself to the world and showing what he can do. He moves from fast cut, rat-a-tat quick-fire walk-and-talks to moments of stillness to finely delivered long take monologues that make you lean into the screen as if being told a particularly good urban legend. One long tracking shot takes us out of Fay’s office, across town, THROUGH the basketball game, up the bleachers, back out to the streets outside and on to the radio station.

Like last week’s The Endlessthis is mostly a two-hander with the supporting cast drifting in and out as the story demands and McCormick and Horowitz carry the movie ably as they run around town, the chemistry of their friendship strong, learning more about the mystery they’ve stumbled onto.

The Vast of Night is a slow burn, eerie tale that draws you in with moments to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It’s quietly gripping and I’m excited about what Patterson does next. It’s on Amazon Prime so if you have that, there’s no excuse not to check it out.

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