Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Vast of Night (2019)

Starring: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gael Cronauer, Bruce Davis

Directed by: Andrew Patterson

Rating: 1 2 3 4

The Vast of Night is framed as an episode of a hokey 1950s sci-fi series, slowly emerging from grainy black and white on a tiny, cracked TV set to reveal the muted colours of a small Texas town. As the crowds pack into the gym hall for the big game, for local radio DJ Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz) and peppy switchboard operator Fay Cocker (Sierra McCormick), it's just another evening at work. But when reports of strange lights in the sky start coming in and Everett receives a disturbing call from a military worker who's seen these lights before, the pair gradually realise that there's more at stake here than they thought...

Jake Horowitz as Everett and Sierra McCormick as Fay in The Vast of Night

As director Andrew Patterson points out, the film is basically a 1950s flying saucer abduction movie, and makes entertaining use of all the typical tropes of the genre: indecipherable booming noises, inexplicable disappearances, weird, garbled language, and transfixing lights. Yet this is no tired, tongue-in-cheek pastiche, playing for laughs rather than dramatic tension. Instead, this loving homage takes those tropes and does something wholly new with them.

Unfolding rather like a stage play (or even a radio play – it really reminded me of cerebral zombie outbreak drama Pontypool, which is set almost entirely in a radio station), utilising only a few, carefully dressed locations and unfurling the action in long, single takes, the film gives us time to get to know and like Everett and Fay, whose cheerful resilience in the face of a tough upbringing and little hope for future life opportunities is both admirable and touching. And because we care, when the inevitable denouement occurs, it hits doubly hard.

If you're a fan of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits or The X Files you're guaranteed to love The Vast of Night. Do you want to believe? You will now.

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