The Vast of Night Review: Retro sci-fi atmosphere, effective thrills, and stellar nods to The Twilight Zone create one of Amazon Prime’s best
Amazon Prime’s newest film, The Vast of Night, brings together some fresh talent to create a retro sci-fi mystery straight out of The Twilight Zone – and that’s not just a clever mention.
First-time director, at least as IMDB tells me, Andrew Patterson makes it clear within the first few moments that The Vast of Night is clear homage to the early days of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. In the film’s opening, we’re shown that the entire film is taking place within the film’s fictional show “Paradox Theater” and Patterson maintains the style, atmosphere, and tone that’s perfectly reminiscent of Serling’s legendary series. From the way certain scenes transition through an 50’s style screen in fuzzy black and white to the opening monologue that tells viewers they are going to a new world, The Vast of Night revitalizes retro sci-fi storytelling in a way that remains fresh and is constantly engaging. Even the film’s fictional town of Caguya is named after Seling’s production company and as a fan of the series is very touching to see Patterson pay homage to one of the greats.
The Vast of Night isn’t just a great homage to The Twilight Zone though, as it tells a captivating, eerie, and intriguing sci-fi alien tale told from writers James Montague and Craig W. Sagner – who are also making their debut with this film. Set in a small New Mexico town in the 1950s, the film follows Fay (Sierra McCormick), a young switchboard operator, and Everett (Jake Horowitz), a local DJ, as they discover a strange radio frequency that makes them question if they are unidentified visitors around them.
Frankly, the 50’s style that this film lives and breathes is absolutely incredible and unlike anything I’ve seen lately. The second that Everett opens his mouth and the fast-paced, snappy, and almost rhythmic-like dialogue kicks in, the film becomes an authentic time capsule of the 50s. Hearing strange lingo and phrases like “baking biscuits” for interviewing and not knowing a “frog’s ribbit” about things really adds some punch to the dialogue and feels fitting. From watching characters interact with radios, switchboards, and other tech from that time to the way the conversations feel more relaxed and friendly in tone, this film is truly a trip back in time. Fay’s glasses even just click as this token of 50s and the way the looks and feels of everything coming together is simply perfect. There’s even a moment where race relations in the 50s is touched on through a conversation Everett and Fay have with a caller named Billy (Bruce Davis) and it’s a simple and clever moment that leaves a lasting impact on both the characters and viewers. Also, it’s crazy how Caguya really feels like a small town where everyone knows each other’s names and has different versions of local stories.
Like I said, before Everett’s dialogue is immediately intriguing from the start and it’s all because Horowitz’s performance is so strong. He brings such a great energy to the start of this film that makes casual conversations more interesting. He also nails Everett’s radio personality with how he tries to be in control of conversations and maintain direction to get the information he needs. McCormick is just as strong as Fay and makes her a very capable and aware character that we normally wouldn’t see in this time period. Right from the start, you can tell she’s shy but determined and curious and as the film goes on, she only becomes stronger and more determined as her and Everett make strange discoveries. Not to mention, these performances are even better when you realize that they are doing a lot in the long duration shots Patterson executes throughout the film.
Most of the time, the film is slow-moving and methodical as it unveils details about what’s happening to Caguya through interviews that Everett has and strange reactions that Fay picks up on her switchboard. However, these seemingly menial story moments are made engaging and incredibly eerie because of Patterson’s execution. The entire sequence of Fay working on the switchboard and taking strange calls really builds up this suspense and intrigue about something coming into town – especially with the call about the tornado. Even the conversations they have with Billy and Mabel (Gail Cronauer) about the connections this strange frequency has to their pasts were oddly compelling and it fascinated me how I was hanging off of every word of their stories. There’s this great mysterious undertone through the film that’s just magnetic and really keeps you on your toes and eagerly awaiting the film’s big reveal – which is incredibly satisfying. The film’s finale is visually mesmerizing, and I really appreciated how Patterson keeps things simple as it leaves a deeper impact on viewers and doesn’t overly rely on any kind of shocking twists. In some ways, it’s easy to say that The Vast of Night is predictable in terms of where Everett and Fay’s journey ends, but Patterson and company keep things fresh through delivering palpable suspense and staying true to kind of old-school sci-fi story its tells.
The Vast of Night is truly the kind of authentic, suspenseful, and effective sci-fi thriller that’s rarely seen anymore and an absolute must-watch for all Amazon Prime members out there. It delivers great performances and engaging thrills easily as well as some great nods to The Twilight Zone that would make Serling proud. Honestly, if Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone gets another season, he should give Patterson and company a call because they’ve brought a version of their own that’s original and genuine in their phenomenal debut.