M.L. Miller here and welcome to my tenth anniversary Best in Horror Countdown! Every day in this glorious month of October I’ll be counting down the best in horror, culminating with the best horror film since last Halloween! With theaters closed for the bulk of this shitty, shitty year, much of the countdown comes from alternative sources like streaming services, digital download, and On Demand. Plus, we saw the return of the drive-in theater, which is awesome! This list compiles the best horror films released beginning on October 1, 2019 and ending on September 30, 2020. No elitism here—only films released to the public on this list which rules out haughty festival flicks that only esteemed reviewers get to see. If it played on a public screen this year, it’s fair game to be on the list. Here we go!
Released on May 15, 2020. Streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime!!
THE VAST OF NIGHT (2019)
Directed by Andrew Patterson
Written by Andrew Patterson (as James Montague), Craig W. Sanger
Starring Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis, Cheyenne Barton, Mark Banik, Gregory Peyton, Adam Dietrich, Mallorie Rodak, Mollie Milligan, Ingrid Fease, Brandon Stewart, Kirk Griffith, Nika Sage McKenna, Brett Brock, Pam Dougherty, Lynn Blackburn, Richard Jackson, James Mayberry, Nicolette Doke, Grant James, Libby Villari, Gordon Fox, John Gindling, Brianna Beasley, L.A. Young
THE VAST OF NIGHT is a low fi film, but looks, sounds, and feels like a blockbuster. In November of 1958 in the small mythical town of Cayuga, New Mexico something strange occurred. But no one but a handful of people in the town witnesses it because everyone is at the big high school basketball game. Only Everett, a radio DJ (Jake Horowitz) and a telephone operator named Fay (Sierra McCormick) have a clue what is going on and it’ll take some big sleuthing to get to the bottom of it. The two track down leads which lead them to government conspiracies, local coverups, and possibly deep, unexplored space.
Introduced as an episode of a radio show that is akin to THE TWILIGHT ZONE with a Rod Serling-esque intro, THE VAST OF NIGHT plays out like one of the best of the classic TV series extended to feature length. Filmed in black and white, director Andrew Patterson has gone to great lengths to make this one look and feel as if it were something found in a TV archive and viewed here for the first time. There is a genuine love of that era as well as an understanding of the wide-eyed wonder and innocent whimsy that shines from every frame.
At the same time, THE VAST OF NIGHT is a very modern film as it incorporates extended long takes following Everett and Fay as they walk the length of the small town from the basketball gymnasium to the Kay’s job at the phone company and on to Everett’s radio station. The camera follows them through parking lots, down streets, and in and out of buildings which really gives you an immersive, amazingly choreographed, fly on the wall style that does not feel artificial or staged. The choreography of this one is something of a marvel as it really does look like no other film I have seen in recent memory.
But these long walks are not boring for a tick as Andrew Patterson (as James Montague) and Craig Sanger fill this film from top to bottom with natural, character-driven, and downright fascinating dialog. Fay and Everett have an odd mentor/student relationship which would be seen as inappropriate by today’s standards as there is a flirty aspect to their conversations that suggests there could very well be a relationship there. The story plays with this well, never going to an inappropriate place, but never really hiding what seems to be attraction between the two of them either. High-schooler Fay is full of questions, wanting to be a radio reporter someday, and Everett is more than willing to be a teacher to her and laps up her attention gleefully. While their constant banter stays on professional things like coming up with questions for an interview and what one’s voice sounds like on the air, there is clever and subtle romantic subtext between them. While I am sure there are those who might object to this type of relationship depicted on screen between a man and a woman, it never goes to an appropriate place and it never bothered me because their relationship is so charming.
This movie is chatty as hell and for those of you who need a little action in their films, you might find THE VAST OF NIGHT to be a snoozer. But I found the wonderful conversations and intriguing set of calls which lead to a possible UFO encounter to be utterly fascinating. There is a specific type of charm that permeates every scene as these two amateur investigators get closer and closer to the intergalactic truth. While the effects are minimum, the few that do occur are surprisingly accomplished and never exceeds the budget or feels fake. I left THE VAST OF NIGHT enthralled by the charm, talent, and sheer originality and if you are a fan of TWILIGHT ZONE-esque films of yesteryear, I think you’ll feel the same.
THE 2019-2020 COUNTDOWN!
#16 – THE VAST OF NIGHT
#17 – HOMEWRECKER
#18 – IMPETIGORE
#19 – BUTT BOY
#20 – BECKY
#21 – UNDERWATER
#22 – THE DEAD CENTER
#23 – BLOOD MACHINES
#24 – ALONE
#25 – THE BEACH HOUSE
#26 – AMULET
#27 – LAKE OF DEATH
#28 – SEA FEVER
#29 – THE RENTAL
#30 – ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE
#31 – REPLACE
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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