One of the best films from last year’s festival circuit just hit Amazon Prime today. The Vast of Night, directed by Andrew Patterson, takes you back to 1950s New Mexico at the dawn of the space race, where technology and conspiracies grow more complicated each day. On one night in a small town called Cayuga, Everett (Jake Horowitz), a radio DJ, and Fay (Sierra McCormick), a switchboard operator, come across a conspiracy of their own that sends them down a path of dropped calls, mysterious audio signals, and child abductions. It’s a perfect mix of The Twilight Zone and The X-Files, and is a great antithesis to the modern sci-fi blockbuster. More thoughts can be found in our review from last year’s Slamdance Film Festival.
Below is our conversation with Jake Horowitz, where we discuss the various influences of The Vast of Night such as films like All the President’s Men, and what is was like stepping into 1950s New Mexico.
The Young Folks: First off that The Vast of Night was one of my favorite films from last year.
Jake Horowitz: Thank you.
TYF: I saw it as part of the Slamdance Festival, which was pretty early last year. The film seemed to take a long route through the festival circuit last year. Could you talk a little bit about that experience, and then how it feels for it to be premiering on Amazon Prime pretty soon?
JH: It’s pretty surreal to see it now. The most recent time that I saw it was at Toronto at TIFF The first time that I saw the final cut was at Slamdance, so that was a treat. That was the most surreal experience, just seeing it for the first time with an audience and seeing it land on people, like seeing people be willing to go on the journey and really, sort of, be transported by it. It felt really gratifying as an actor to be a part of a movie that did that. Then to see where it’s at now with Toronto and the drive-in theater which I think is a weirdly perfect way to see this movie, and then to see it be able to reach a crazy wide audience on Amazon is like a dream come true. It’s amazing.
TYF: One of the things that really pulled me into the film, and I imagine for everyone else too, is just the general aesthetic of the 1950s, from the clothes, the production, the technology and the paranoia and the conspiracies of the time. Could you talk a little bit about stepping into that era, making it feel authentic, and then adding the sci-fi twist onto it?
JH: Yeah, totally. That was always Andrew’s thing with me and Sierra was like, we know we’re making a movie that has sort of a B sci-fi plot. Like we all know this plot like the back of our hand. It’s all about if we can really authentically ask ourselves, what would this really feel like? And what does that sort of fear and anxiety really feel like? So, stepping into the era was always about getting rid of all the ideas that we had in our head from all these movies and TV shows about what this story looks like. And actually just sort of settling into these characters, in this real town, and making that feel right. And I would say that the script does so much of that work because the dialogue is so great, and the back and forth feels so authentic, that so much of that work as an actor is taken care of for you when you have good writing. We were really blessed with such a great script.
TYF: Speaking of the dialogue, because that is also one of my favorite things about it, it’s pretty dialogue heavy, but it never feels like we’re being told a bunch information, even though we are.
JH: Yeah I agree, it was one of the first things I loved.
TYF: That kind of feeds into a question I had about the nature of story, because it is a film in which basically the characters are just telling a bunch of stories to each other and Fay and Everett, as the radio DJ and the switchboard operator, they’re in the middle of all the town gossip. But then they get pulled into their own little mystery story. Could you talk about how the dialogue, story, gossip, and truth kind of layer on top of each other?
JH: Yeah, that’s a great point. One of the things I loved about the movie the first time I read it was the … it really is about communication and storytelling in a similar way that Arrival is about communication, and how would we really find a way to speak to aliens if they came. I think that this movie deals with how we tell stories and a great influence for James and Craig writing this was radio play, and they were interested in what actually is needed to tell a story, like Gunsmoke, this old American, sort of Western, radio show where their voices tell the story. I think that’s sort of bare necessities exploration was really important in this movie. It totally explored different ways that we tell stories and the excitement that we get when we think we found a real one, right?? I think Everett said “This could be news, this could be real national news we could have …,” that sort of crazy excitement that comes over you when you think you’ve found some sort of real story in your life.
TYF: There’s also a bit of a Twilight Zone and X-Files vibe to it, which I really got a kick out of, especially how the first shot of the film is of the little 1950s era television set. What other sci-fi influences contributed to the film and where do you think The Vast of Night sits in the canon of sci-fi films?
JH: Yeah, its funny, as an actor the things that inspired me, and I think Sierra too, were not sci-fi movies in preparing for the part. I remember watching All The President’s Men and there’s a great phone call scene with Robert Redford, Zodiac also has just great creeping, creeping tension. Also just very long take movies that have a lot of back and forth dialogue. Like Alfonso Cuaron movies, Children Of Men, I think that those are the kinds of things that were inspiring me. Stuff like YouTube footage of radio DJ’s, because it really is a movie that has a then genre, it is definitely a sci-fi thriller, but it’s also a walk and talk movie. It’s a real time, one night, movie.