Cayuga, New Mexico is a small ass town, and you can tell it because the camera doesn't blink as it seems to run the full length of it, end to end, several times over across the brief eighty-five minutes that make up Andrew Patterson's film The Vast of Night (which is now streaming on Amazon Prime). The a basketball game at the high school, and everybody in town save our heroes (more on them in a second) seems to be there; there's a parking lot full of their cars; there's a black stretch of Main Street, all the shops windows dark for the night; oh and there's a little radio station, all the better to hear the incoming crackling space-alien sound-waves with.
The Vast of Night presents itself as a forgotten, perhaps purposefully unremembered episode of The Twilight Zone -- it's soaked in the hazy menace of forgetfulness, as if somebody wiped our brains of its memory, or perhaps it was better, healthier, for us just not to recall. It's a beam out from the 1950s, a single shaft of flashlight shot across a field so dark your fingertips turn on you. A TV screen, greenish to the tint, flickers, casting everybody in a space-man gloom. We, simple in our dungarees, our stiff skirts, have amphibian DNA, third eyes, an old-timey X-File that fell behind the water cooler.
We follow two characters as they run back and forth across the length of Cayuga -- there's Fay (Sierra McCormick) a teenaged bobby-soxer in cat-glasses who works the telephone switchboard with dreams of a journalism career, and there's Everett (Jake Horowitz), our Guy Friday and high school radio host, the type of fella who walks with purpose and has teachers deferential before he's old enough to vote. They are Good Kids, smart and efficient, whose goodness and efficiency is about to get weaponized in a quest for Ungood Stuffs.
This film, as small and simple as the town it's set in, is one of those ones you see the words "calling card" stamped across for new filmmakers, where they really give it all they've got when you can tell the getting's good -- writer-director Patterson, here with his first movie, simply wows. Yes in the grand tradition from Welles through Raimi that means embracing some camera trickery -- those long miles-long dolly-shots traversing the length of town have purpose, situating us in the small island of Cayuga set adrift in a sea of night-black deserts on every side, but they're also just cool rides to ride on every time he pulls one.
But Patterson also knows when to yank the plug on the gimmicks and go for-real old-school. The scenes where we tune into our Radio Mystery Hour Programme and the screen goes full-black as we listen, simply listen, to a tale being told, and our imaginations, our terrible imaginations, run wilder than any dolly-shot could ever, should ever, do -- them's the keepers. Them's the moments where The Vast of Night lives up to its title, and the skies open to bare and beam their scariest secrets straight down into our old-fashioned souls. Look up, the stranger said, the heavens are full of wonders.