Something in the Sky (Film Review: “The Vast of Night”)

A retro sci-fi gem about a teenage switchboard operator and the local DJ who stumble on an eerie phenomenon in their remote NM town in the late 1950s.

SnapShot Plot

An ingenious Cold War era sci-fi film is getting well deserved word of mouth on Amazon Prime, with a low budget vibe that belies the masterful storytelling at work in The Vast of Night. Starring relative newcomers Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz, the story is set over the course of a single night in tiny Cayuga, New Mexico (population 492), where practically all its inhabitants have flocked to the high school for a big basketball game. 16 year old Fay Crocker is on duty as one of the town’s switchboard operators, but her interest in radio production (coupled with her wide-eyed admiration for the town’s cool young DJ, Everett Sloan) finds him taking her under his wing to ‘show her the ropes’ of how its done. When a mysterious rhythmic sound interrupts Everett’s radio signal, as well as the phone connections, Fay and Everett begin to realize that something very strange is taking place. Suddenly a caller comes on the line identifying himself as a former Army soldier who years earlier was commissioned to participate in a bizarre project for the Military from which he and others suffered lasting negative effects. Another caller (this time a local) beseeches the pair to come to her house to learn the origins of the mystery, at which point she recounts a harrowing tale of extraterrestrial abduction that boggles Everett and Fay’s minds. But before they dismiss hers as the rantings of an old woman, the switchboard lights up with reports of strange sightings in the night sky. Everett is convinced that whatever threat may exist must be some kind of Russian invasion, and sees it as the media scoop of a lifetime and his ticket out of Cayuga to the big city. It remains to be seen if their youthful curiosity will uncover just another ‘bump in the night’ or something much more sinister, even out of this world.

Parting Shot

The Vast of the Night is the feature film debut of director Andrew Patterson, who co-wrote the script Craig W. Sanger. The film is a love letter to the work of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone. Even the name of the town is a wink to that master storyteller, whose own production company, Cayuga, was named after the Finger Lakes town where the Serlings had a summer home.

Utilizing the effective film-within-a-film device, the entire story seems to exist as a black & white episode of a Twilight Zone-esque program entitled Paradox Theater with an introductory voice-over straight out of the best of Serling. Once the scene is ‘set’, we are delivered into a full color production, with quite convincing 1950s hues, costumes (everyone wore glasses in the days before contact lenses), cars and production details. The dialogue is also convincingly contemporaneous, illustrating an earnestness and credulousness long since gone from modern culture and speech. Absent is the cynicism and bitter irony reflective of modern storytelling and characters after the 60s, and certainly post-Watergate. When Everett suspects, for example, that the strange phenomenon taking place must be a Russian plot, he says it with no trace of irony, and we are reminded that this moment occurs at the height of the Cold War. Which happened to be the political and creative spark for the majority of B-movies made at the time, featuring invading space creatures, flying saucers, and radioactively cooked up mega-monsters the likes of Godzilla.

At one point, radiation poisoning is mentioned by the mysterious caller to the show, who also goes on to offer a racial explanation of why he and other Black soldiers had been pre-selected for their strange mission years earlier. It’s a sobering moment of racial reflection which the filmmakers clearly could not have predicted would land with such topical force today.

The Vast of Night is a superbly made B-movie, all the more impressive for it’s ability to celebrate the genre as well as the narrative setting in which the movie takes place. On one hand it’s pure nostalgia; on the other it still manages to be scary as Hell.

The Vast of Night is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to partner on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern (presently known as Pandemic Diaries) as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer:

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