A unique and fascinating visual/audio experience

At the beginning of John Carpenter’s 1980 film “The Fog,” Oscar-winning actor and renowned producer John Houseman tells a ghost story around a campfire. His perfect diction and delivery help make a dry story work within the cinematic medium. It sets a creepy tone for what is to follow.

Although movies are primarily a visual experience, hearing a good story told well never gets old.

In “The Vast of Night,” filmmaker Andrew Patterson, directing from a script by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, relies heavily on old-fashioned story-telling. Through the power of two strong story-tellers, this little movie stands out in our over-caffeinated marketplace. There’s a lot of talk in the film, but it’s fascinating and thrilling to watch and listen.

“Vast” is set in the fictitious small town of Cayuga, New Mexico. Our protagonists are 16-year-old switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and slightly older radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz), who are drawn together during one very strange night.

The story is prefaced as if it is part of an old black & white television show called “Paradox Theatre,” which is reminiscent of an episode of “The Outer Limits.” From the comfort of a 1950’s living room, an antique television set glows in flickering shades of gray, and a weird tale is projected on its screen.

The camera slowly pushes in as color images begin to fill the picture. We travel to Cayuga, where preparations for a high school basketball game are underway.

Everett walks into the school’s gymnasium, called there to assist with a power outage. The gym is buzzing with activity—players warm-up, cheerleaders do cartwheels, the band readies their instruments.

As Everett meanders through the crowd, he barks dismissive orders to students preparing a tape recorder to tape the game. He’s reminded several times that in the past, a squirrel had caused an outage by biting through a wire.

At some point, he encounters the bespectacled, enthusiastically chatty Fay, who begs him to give her instructions for operating her new tape recorder. The two seem made for one another as they gab about radio and recording. We soon learn that Fay also helps to operate Cayuga’s telephone switchboard.

“The Vast of Night” is marvelously made. The opening sequence is fantastic. A flowing camera follows Fay and Everett through what appears to be the entire length of the town. Director of photography M.I. Littin-Menz pulls off long moving shots coupled with a dialogue track that is like something from a Robert Altman classic. This homage isn’t lost on director Patterson, who subtly has a character complains of possible “cross-talk” on the game recording.

Read the rest of Jonathan’s review online and in print in the Times-Herald:

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