CREDIT: Amazon Studios

Starring: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis

Director: Andrew Patterson

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for The Looming Threat of Something Alien

Release Date: May 29, 2020 (Amazon Prime Video)

Imagine, if you will, a movie coming out in 2020 that presents itself as an episode of a fictional anthology TV series called Paradox Theatre, which is clearly inspired by the most famous actual anthology series of all time. Twilight Zone fever is alive and well, baby! The truth is, Rod Serling’s iconic creation, and all the brethren it’s inspired, has never really gone away. (That would still very much be the case even if the CBS All Access revival didn’t exist.) It’s pretty damn hard, nearly impossible even, to recapture the spirit of O.G. Twilight Zone, but I nonetheless love that The Vast of Night wears its influence so openly on its sleeve. The Paradox Theatre framing device could have been deployed even more thoroughly than it is, but it nevertheless sets a vibe that assures you that debut director Andrew Patterson is worth paying attention to.

Patterson and screenwriters James Montague and Craig W. Sanger whisk us back to one night in 1950s New Mexico, where there’s a big basketball game at the local high school that everyone in town is headed to. But we’re not here to follow anyone on the team. Instead, we’re going along with two other students as they head off to their jobs sending audio content through the ether. Fay (Sierra McCormick) is a switchboard operator, and Everett (Jake Horowitz) hosts a radio show. He’s constantly razzing her, but he also takes her seriously enough to know it’s worth doing some digging when she alerts him to some weird noises coming through the boards.

If you’re into the genre, you know where this is headed, i.e., EXTRATERRESTRIAL VISITORS HAVE A MESSAGE FOR US! The fun and the thrill of it is getting to study Fay and Everett’s faces as it dawns on them that major secrets are about to reveal themselves. Something bigger than their regular old small-town life might just actually exist.

The Vast of Night is in its sweet spot when it keeps things claustrophobic. Eventually Fay and Everett venture back out into the night to track down the source of the noises, and there is a nice frantic energy, as they (and seemingly the entire town) become swallowed by panic and paranoia. But when Everett is flipping tapes and Fay is turning knobs and switching wires, there is a pleasantly intense procedural quality to the awe they experience while just sitting around and going through their routine. When you realize that you’re at the mercy of something as vast as the universe just outside your window, it’s enough to make you lean in and become a budding little investigator. Throw in some era-appropriate fixings like thick-framed eyeglasses, full-length skirts, and jokes about the future of cell phones, and you’ve got yourself a slick little satisfying genre picture.

The Vast of Night is Recommended If You Like: The Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories, The X-Files

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Switchboards