“Brace your brains!” says Fay (Sierra McCormick) as she reads aloud a magazine’s future prediction of pocket-sized TV phones to Everett (Jake Horowitz), which is apt preparation for The Vast of Night, a story about two 1950s New Mexico kids trying to investigate the source of a strange signal.
Both of them are high-schoolers working with sound – Fay as a part-time switchboard operator, Everett as a night-time DJ at local radio station WOTW (I understood that reference). And our introduction to them is pure talk that suit their after-school vocations: Fay the high-wired, jumpy, peppy fast-talker; Everett the verbose, overly confident chatterbox with not a single wasted breath or dead airspace.
In fact, I’m still so impressed with the performances of these two kids that it’s hard to believe both are newcomers with few credits to their names and not 40-year-old TV veterans.
And it’s fantastic on an aesthetic front, too – this movie throws us in the deep end with all manner of long, lush, dizzying, sweeping, slow, rushing tracking shots – including during a running gag in which Fay walks/runs everywhere in town rather than just drive like Everett; a beautifully lilting score and visual transitions that scream retro without being kitsch. Cars, tape reels, recorders, the aforementioned switchboard are all each their own characters lit by midnight-movie drive-in-style lighting and colour palettes.
But it’s not just technique and, while the story is simple, it’s brimming with brief but timely touches of themes of alienation (pun not intended), of marginalised people not being listened to, of escape, which could have made for a deeper movie if explored further. But, ultimately, it’s quick and funny and lays out its nostalgic feel as a bonus, and on a technical as well as a storytelling level, first-time director Andrew Patterson has crafted a tale full of nostalgic, eerie wonder.