‘The Vast Of Night’ review: B-movie pastiche is a close encounter with classic sci-fi

Newbie director Andrew Patterson borrows from his favourite genre for this gripping, inventive ode to science fiction past

Speaking to NME ahead of the release of his new science fiction thriller, actor Jake Horowitz admitted The Vast Of Night won’t win any awards for originality. “It’s a B-movie sci-fi plot that has been seen many times before” he said. “The trick is to do it well.” Gripping, inventive and made on a shoestring budget, the lo-fi indie might crib from great genre flicks of the past, but it still manages to spin a mysterious tale all of its own.

Framed around a retro TV set via which the viewer is transported to 1950s New Mexico, the film starts much as an episode of The Twilight Zone used to. There’s an old-timey presenter who tells of weird goings on. The picture is in black-and-white. A creepy orchestral track plays in the background. But give it a few minutes to kick into gear – and you’ll soon find yourself inside a high school basketball game, the first of the season, where a charismatic radio DJ, Everett (Horowitz), is teaching his young switchboard operator pal, Fay (Sierra McCormick), how to work her new tape recorder. Later, when they discover a strange audio frequency broadcasting on the air waves, they’re forced to investigate a supernatural presence that may have profound consequences for the future of their small town.

We know what you’re thinking: this is all very Close Encounters, isn’t it? And you’d be right. The similarities between director Andrew Patterson’s debut and the Steven Spielberg classic are non-stop. But that isn’t the only title it’s inspired by – from the name of the radio station (WOTW – War Of The Worlds, obviously) to including a family called the Grimaldis (the first characters to die in 1956 horror classic Invasion of The Bodysnatchers), The Vast Of Night is stuffed with Easter eggs just itching to be uncovered by a genre nut. Yet oddly, the reverence Patterson has for those that came before him is exactly what keeps his film from spinning out.

The Vast Of Night
Sierra McCormick as Fay in ‘The Vast Of Night’. Credit: Amazon Prime Video

By coming to terms with the played-out nature of alien invasion movies, the newbie filmmaker accepts that he needs to work within the framework in order to innovate. There are no sudden plot twists here, but clever camera trickery and long, 1917-style single takes which track Everett and Fay’s journey across the suburbs make watching this hypnotic mindbender a pretty unique experience – even if what happens during it isn’t. Add to that a pair of scintillating performances from two little-known actors (this is only Horowitz’s second named role) and you’ve got more than enough ingredients to make an engrossing period mystery that easily escapes the trappings of its genre. Sure, Internet nerds will tweet they’ve seen it all before – probably just after watching the ninth Star Wars instalment – but in an overly-caffeinated blockbuster arena, this little ode to movies they literally don’t make anymore is a real treat.

Details

  • Director: Andrew Patterson
  • Starring: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer
  • Release date: May 29 (Amazon Prime Video)
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