Greetings again from the darkness. We know something is amiss as soon as Jaylen notices the bulletin board at his workplace, Jerry’s Convenience Store. It’s covered in “Missing Person” flyers … way more than a small town like Mount Arrow should have. Jaylen also wonders why his family recently moved here when they seem to be “the only black people in town.” It’s the first feature film for both director Delmar Washington and screenwriter Tucker Morgan, and they cleverly blend contemporary racial issues with a science fiction tale straight out “The X-Files” or “The Twilight Zone”.
Skylan Brooks (“Empire”) stars as Jaylen, a high school student whose previous actions protecting his mother (Rutina Wesley, “True Blood”) from an abusive man, have him labeled as prone to violence at his new school. It’s a past that comes to haunt him when Amira (Clark Backo) disappears as the two of them frolic by the lake. The little town is full of those ready to convict Jaylen before any facts are known. It doesn’t help that his story involves a flash of blue lights from the sky as Amira vanished. The local sheriff (Shane West, Tom Sawyer in THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, 2003) doesn’t believe Jaylen’s story, but is close enough to the town’s history to realize something isn’t right.
The supporting cast is strong and includes Taryn Manning (“Orange is the New Black”) as the Aunt Jaylen’s family lives with, Diamond White as Jaylen’s sister, Hart Denton as a local boy, and Bill “Here’s Your Sign” Engvall as a town outcast tied to what he claims was an alien abduction … one that closely matches Jaylen’s experience. There is also a group of small-minded racists that are anxious to make sure Jaylen pays for the crime. The movie opens on the aftermath of Jaylen in a car crash, and his subsequent arrest despite injury. We then flash back to three days earlier.
THE VAST OF NIGHT (2020) was one of my absolute favorite films from last year, and while there are some sci-fi similarities, Mr. Washington and Mr. Tucker are sure to add in social commentary concerning how quickly some jump to conclusions and are so quick to convict. It’s a strong debut with nice performances and a message that matters.
The film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival.