The Vast of Night (4 stars)

The Vast of Night

Intriguing, 50s-set sci-fi that acts as an impressive calling card for director Andrew Patterson

This intriguing and affectionate take on 1950s sci-fi, channels the shock and awe of a small-town UFO sighting and the relative innocence of the era, and adds a more mischievously modern note. Working from a screenplay by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, debut director Andrew Patterson frames his first feature as if it's an eery episode of fictional Twilight Zone-esque show 'Paradox Theater', taking us in through a flickering black and white television set and out the other side into a lusciously shot night in Cayuga, New Mexico.

It's the evening of the first basketball game of the school season and virtually the whole town is in attendance, as the camera tears through deserted streets. Strange sounds plague the switchboard and airwaves and there are odd sightings in the sky. With everyone else otherwise engaged, local radio host Everett (Jake Horowitz) and his mustard-keen teen protegee Fay (Sierra McCormick) want to know what's up – their snappy walk-and-talks fuse the spirit of screwball with a modern, mumblecore vibe. Everett throws the mystery out to his listeners, prompting an ex-military man (Bruce Davis) to share his experience of a top-secret mission, and a lonely old woman (Gail Cronauer) reveals her own private agony, in the film's hypnotic highlight.

With its film within a show and stories within a story, The Vast of Night is playful and fixated on form. It's made with ample craft, from its enjoyably unpredictable and adaptable visual shtick to its likeable performances and period detail. Tonally, it can be a bit Lynchian, a little Spielbergian, there's even enough anarchic spirit to threaten to take it down the Critters road; it's really not clear where it's ultimately going to land. As he steers us this way and that, speeds things up and slows them right down, Patterson seems like a director figuring himself out; that's no bad thing when the result is this good.

Available to watch on Amazon Prime Video from Fri 29 May.