Two straight nights, I watched indie sci-fi flicks. First it was Proximity, and this is The Vast of Night; both of which felt like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, if those were done by college students working with a budget. At least this movie had the fun of being a period piece that gave us a bunch of old cars and a switchboard operator that felt like early ‘50s. It was also fun watching a basketball game that felt like something out of Hoosiers. Of course, as a former radio DJ, it was also fun watching a guy work at an old AM studio.
So when a small New Mexico town has a big game, we see the local radio host (Jake Horowitz, who reminds me of a young Matthew McConaughey/Kevin Bacon hybrid) tries to explain to a teenage girl (Sierra McCormick) how to work her tape recorder. It’s a little confusing when it starts because they’re both talking so darn fast. It’s also not clear why they’re leaving the basketball game, when it hasn’t even started. That’s because he has the night time shift on the air waves, and she has to take over the phone company switchboard so her mom can go to her second job. That made very little sense, as they’re both teenagers (unless this was some kind of Children of the Corn deal).
When a strange signal gets into the airwaves, it causes a few power outages and other strange phenomena. This leads, unfortunately, to a few very long conversations. One of those is a former soldier who calls in with an experience to share. Another involves an old lady who wants to explain some things to them also. Both of them had stories that…were only slightly interesting. And after the movie ends, the guy’s story actually never played into things.
A few of the tracking shots, through a series of cool ‘50s cars in the parking lot, are kind of interesting. M.I. Lettin-Menz does some interesting stuff with the camera, at times giving us a swooping perspective that makes you think of a low flying spaceship checking out the town.
There are a few comedic moments — the DJ assuming the static noises are an attack by the Russians, for example. A few more of those moments would have helped.
I wondered why both the boy and the girl were so quick to think these unusual sounds were so weird. Things technologically speaking, were probably pretty dim back then, so it’s odd that the weirdest sound all of the sudden turned them into Scully and Mulder. I also wondered how, when he went on this trek, he didn’t put on an album to play. Surely the radio audience would be more perplexed with dead air and not hearing anything on the radio, then a few weird noises.
It’s all framed like a Twilight Zone type episode on an old TV, which is kind of what the movie feels like, but…I think each episode of that original show was more intriguing, and an hour shorter. It also kind of takes you out of the drama of what’s going on when we periodically have to go back to an old-fashioned cathode ray tube set.
The whole thing was a bit too vague. My wife liked it more than I did, but she did find it annoying nonetheless.
At least nobody had body parts probed by aliens.
2 stars out of 5.
Interesting Side Note: There’s a funny scene where the DJ is giving away pieces of Elvis’ carpet as a prize. When the girl asks if it’s really his carpet he tells her, “It was, but we ran out of it a long time ago, so we’re just giving people carpet from Mabel’s house.”
My friend’s mom, who is in her late 80s now, told me a great story about how she cut Elvis’ hair once and someone called up wanting to buy his hair. So she swept it up and he gave her $250 for it. He called back later asking if he got it all, or if she had any more. Sensing an opportunity to make more money, she said there was more. He came up with another $250, and she merely put black hair from another customer into a bag. The guy called back the following day with the same request. Again, she lied and took black hair from a wastebasket and sold it to him. It was a much smaller amount the next day, so she only got $100 that time. I have since seen trading cards that had a “strand of Elvis’ hair” — so apparently a company sold these, and I wonder if it was the guy that just bought random black hair from my friend’s mom.