The Vast of Night is primarily the story of two people, Everett Sloan (played humorously by Jake Horowitz), a charismatic night-time disc-jockey, and nerdy innocent, adorable, Fay Crocker (played by Sierra McCormick) a young switchboard operator in 1950s Cayuga, New Mexico. Cayuga is a small town without much going on except a high-school basketball game that the entire town is going to see. Then on the night of the big game, a sound comes over the telephone lines and their small world goes sideways.
As Everett helps set up the game’s audio equipment, there’s a bit of foreshadowing–the electrical and sound system has gone wonky. Everett runs into Fay who seems to have an innocent crush on him. They’re not dating, but in this small town, everyone knows everyone.
As Everett walks Fay to her job at the switchboard, while he goes to his night shift at the radio station, we begin to get to know and like them. When taking calls and listening to Everett’s radio show, Fay hears a strange sound on her phone lines. She receives a call for the police from someone at the edge of town screaming about something in the sky. Fay calls Everett who can’t identify the sound either, and thus begins their quest to discover what is coming to them over the airwaves from the vast of night, and we’re ready to go along for the ride.
The movie takes its cues from various classic cinema and TV, such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, both of which have a record for doing sci-fi really well. It’s a tall order for The Vast of Night to live up to.
The few special effects they use, however briefly, are fantastic. For a movie grounded in an old-timey feel, the special effects, whether CGI or practical, are surprisingly impressive.
The main characters are well done, appealing, and likable. The acting is solid. Everett is a standout as a cocky, hilarious, and charismatic deejay. Fay is cute, goofy, and charming. These two and the simple, yet well-told story, carry the movie. They’re brave and I truly cared what happens to them.
There’s a great monologue from an old lady, Mable Blanche (Gail Cronauer) who may need a visit from “those nice young men in their clean white coats.” Bruce Davis, as the disembodied voice of a dying man named Billy who may know too much, does a fine job, as well.
It’s a good story, and although the subject is not original, the movie feels surprisingly clever and fresh. It plays on the 50s “red scare” –fear of Russian invasion and the bomb was rampant. There are a few red herrings. The unwinding story is suspenseful and methodical.
The film is in black and white which adds to the effect. However, there are moments when the screen cuts to black. In small doses, this can be used for dramatic effect. The Vast of Night cuts to black repeatedly and stays black for a surprisingly long time, as if this movie is an homage, not only to classic black and white cinema, but to old radio shows as well.
You can fade to black regularly. You can cut to black once or twice, for seconds at most. But over and over made me question if the original scenes were shot poorly, or edited badly, or if it was a design choice. Homage or not, for me it quickly became not so much atmospheric, as obnoxious. I’ve watched a lot of episodes of the Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, but I don’t recall that being done.
The black screen is jarring to the point that I was so jolted out of the story, I considered not watching further. Though I still feel it was a poor creative choice, I’m glad I finished the film. Ultimately, it does not completely detract from a good and very fun story, and a pretty spectacular ending.
Is Vast of Night a great movie that lives up to so many other positive reviews that make it sound like a masterpiece? No. Is it a good movie? Yes.
Rating: 3.5/5 See it on Amazon Prime