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  Vast of Night, The Secret Saucers
Year: 2019
Director: Andrew Patterson
Stars: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis, Cheyenne Barton, Gregory Payton, Adam Dietrich, Malorie Rodack, Mollie Milligan, Ingrid Fease, Brandon Stewart, Kirk Griffith, Nika Sage McKenna, Brett Brock, Pam Doughterty, Lynn Blackburn
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1958 and in the New Mexico smalltown of Cayuga, night has fallen on the excitement of the school basketball game which plenty of the locals will be attending. One who will not is Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz) who has his radio show to take care of, as he is the area's resident evening disc jockey, but being an expert in the electronic equipment, he has been requested to record some interviews with a few of those around and about. The switchboard operator is a girl named Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) who follows Everett around like a lost puppy, keen to pick his brains about his knowledge of, in this instance, the tape recorder he is using, and he tolerates her benignly.

If that comes across like the start of an American Graffiti homage around forty years too late, it didn't stay that way, for as the introduction indicated, this was more an homage to the science fiction and UFO lore of the fifties which nevertheless emulated works like the George Lucas hit and Orson Welles' radio broadcast of War of the Worlds (Everett's name surely a reference to Welles' Mercury Theater), along with nods to more obscure efforts like the similar fifties tribute Strange Invaders. Throughout there were also digs at the US Government for its secret testing programmes, such as the ones that subjected GIs to nuclear explosions to test the effects on their bodies.

If there was one thing writer-director-producer-editor (under a few pseudonyms) Andrew Patterson did not have, it was a lot of money at his disposal, and he did work up a fair head of steam on his tiny budget by substituting expensive visuals in setpieces with dialogue and lots of it. There was so much chit-chat here that My Dinner with Andre could have been a legitimate influence as well as those vintage sci-fi flicks, imagine Close Encounters of the Third Kind if it had been a two-hander radio play (with two interludes from others) and you would have some notion of what this sounded like, and its pretentious title was reminiscent of the space alien infused pop culture of the nineties.

Despite that, this was not wholly indebted to The X-Files, it kicked off with a pastiche of The Twilight Zone as we slowly tracked in on a vintage television set that was showing a broadcast Rod Serling could have conjured up in a parallel universe had his most famous anthology series never been put into production. Or more accurately, it was more like a Twilight Zone knock off, like Thriller or The Outer Limits or any number of these weekly story omnibuses, but even so Patterson did not quite stay true to the fifties era, for a start too little happened in his film to be comparable to the Serling shows, and he would have given his tale a killer twist, which The Vast of Night notably lacked - it just went a bit Close Encounters (OK, very much Close Encounters) and left it at that.

You could regard this as a lot of yakking leading up to an anticlimax that went precisely nowhere, and not as mysterious as it pretended to be when there was so much baggage from seventy years of science fiction culture on screens large and small that meant there were very few surprises left in this style, unless it had opted for a complete cop-out or even an total non sequitur. Yet for all those reservations, Patterson's faith in the tropes of yesteryear was endearing, and his ability to create the atmosphere of the past largely using production design was impressive, not to mention his cast spinning pages and page of that dialogue - in one near-ten minute scene McCormick had one shot all to herself as she interacted with her switchboard. Another boon was how analogue it was, they got that right at least, with the equipment pleasingly tactile rather than touchscreen. That said, it did not really justify ninety minutes in length, and needed something else to happen that was patently beyond their resources. Music by Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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