The Vast of Night

The cheer of the crowd at the basketball game at the high school gym, the ring of the telephone at the dimly-lit exchange, the buzz of the neon of the sign above local station WTOW serving Cayugo, New Mexico, the buzz of the radio station picking up a strange signal which swamps out their own broadcast, and above it all the vast of night, all those who may be out there listening, unseen.

With its international premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, The Vast of Night is an accomplished and engaging oddity, principally it is the story of Everett “the Maverick” Sloan (Jake Horowitz), radio host and go-to tech guru for the high school and Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick), night shift switchboard operator with a mind full of science and dreams of a bright future which she knows she doesn’t have the finance to realise.

He looking for a story to fill the airwaves, she the nexus through which all information passes without overview or context, it is her friend Everett that Fay calls when she begins receiving dead calls of static and electronic tones; thinking that it is sufficiently interesting, Everett broadcasts a recording and asks his listeners if they can provide information on the strange noise.

Calling in, a former soldier named Billy (Bruce Davis) tells them a tale of clandestine operations and strange objects and the sickness which afflicted all the men who came into contact with that smooth, broken surface, while an elderly woman, Mabel Blanche (Gail Cronauer), who has her own tragic story, believes the signal is part of a call and response, and as flickering lights and power cuts roll across the town, more frantic come in telling of lights in the sky.

Ostensibly presented as an episode of Paradox Theater, a retro-television show caught somewhere between The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits but switching between that distinct genre, the scope of cinema with magnificent tracking shots and the stripped-back talking heads of radio, often the film focuses on a single voice delivering an extended monologue, pleading for even a single listener to hear and believe the strange events they recount, an act of faith from the viewer.

A flawless recreation of fifties Americana, a small town where everyone knows their neighbours and doors are unlocked, The Vast of Night creates atmosphere through scenes illuminated only by streetlamps and the headlights of gleaming vintage cars, through carefully choreographed cheering crowds in period costume weaving around the packed basketball court, leaving the town deserted as the camera sweeps between the locations.

Directed with lingering shots of single-take action by Andrew Patterson from a script by James Montague and Craig W Sanger, The Vast of Night weaves anticipation and paranoia, the hope that this might be something truly significant tainted by the Sputnik-era fear that this signal may in fact be a herald to Russian invasion, Fay and Everett the focus but far from in control.

Perhaps not likely to appeal beyond a niche crowd, but those who analysed The X-Files and looked forward to their infrequent visits to Twin Peaks will willingly undertake this exploration of The Vast of Night, seeking meaning and connection to something greater both in their lives and in the random patterns of events in which they find themselves as much as Fay, Everett, Billy and Mabel.

The Vast of Night is screened on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th June

The Edinburgh International Film Festival continues until Sunday 30th June



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