January 23, 2021 – This atmospheric period thriller about UFO abductions in a small, isolated New Mexico town maintains a lot of energy and suspense despite its low budget.
First time director Andrew Patterson gets the most out of his small cast and crew to create a genre science fiction film that looks like an episode of “The Twilight Zone” (Rod Serling's classic TV series that ran from 1959 to 1964).
The film opens and closes with Twilight-Zone-like 1950s black and white TV show visuals, but the vast bulk of the movie is widescreen color. The setting is the fictional town of Cayuga, N.M., in the late 1950s, probably not far removed from Roswell.
The local high school basketball team is playing in the small town, and just about everyone is there, except for the local disk jockey, Everett Sloan (played by Jake Horowitz of “Adam Bloom”) who has to work, and 16-year-old Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick of “VFW”) who has to fill in as the local telephone operator for her mother, who has another job.
Fay starts getting strange calls from people reporting lights in the sky, and starts hearing strange noises on the radio and on the phone lines. She calls Sloan at the radio station and tells him about the noises she is hearing, and he agrees to play the phone line sounds on the radio station transmitter. He asks listeners to call in to the show if they can identify the strange sounds.
A caller named Billy (Bruce Davis of “All Eyez on Me”) calls in and says he heard sounds like that years ago when he was in the Military working on a top secret project. Billy's account leads Sloan and Fay to a forgotten audio tape at the local library recorded years before by another ex-military man who used to live in Cayuga.
Another caller, Mabel Blanche (Gail Cronauer of “Steps of Faith”) says she knows where the strange sounds are coming from, but she won't talk about it on the phone. Instead, Fay and Sloan go to her house and record her statement there.
Mabel tells them a story about how a UFO abducted her son years before. She asks Fay and Sloan to take her with them to the UFO where she can once again connect with her long lost son. Evidently, Fay and Sloan think that Mabel is crazy, because they leave her flat.
There is a great deal of running around on foot by Fay and fast driving in a car by Sloan as more people report seeing strange lights in the sky. All this running around creates a sense of urgency, and quickens the pace of the film.
It sort of makes sense that UFOs might be attracted to UFO signals played through a radio station, but a recorded voice played back inside a car should not attract UFOs, unless the tape recording was played through a transmitter of some kind. Yet this is what happens, along with a lot more running on foot. Long takes, particularly the ones with Fay running frantically along streets, give the film a lot of energy.
The plot doesn't really make much sense to me. I think you have to be primed to believe in really wild conspiracy theories, and not know much about science, to buy into this story. Then there is the obvious goof of having the radio station's call letters WOTW. I thought everyone knew that all radio stations west of the Mississippi have call letters starting with the letter K. It's the law.
Now if this story was set in Pahrump, Nevada and the radio station was KNYE, with an announcer named Bell, hosting a show called “Coast to Coast AM,” that would have been just perfect for this story.
Despite the goofs and omissions and the obvious limitations of a low budget, this film is pretty effective because of its breathless pace and solid acting. Unfortunately, I was not able to see this in a movie theater, or even on DVD. I streamed it on Amazon Prime, and the video did not look good. It looked kind of dark and fuzzy with a brownish tint. However, the cinematography has gotten some awards, so it probably looks better if you can see it in a movie theater.
Maybe the cinematography awards are due to an impressive four-minute fast tracking shot, most of it near ground level. The shot (four shots actually) was reportedly achieved with a camera mounted on a go-kart, combined with a green screen shot, and other shots, some miles away, that were digitally stitched together to make it look like one long take.
This sequence is even more impressive when you consider this was a low-budget film. Hats off to director Andrew Patterson (who reportedly self-funded this film) director of photography M.I. Littin-Menz (“Ramona”) and the visual effects team, headed by VFX producer Marcelo Garcia and VFX supervisor Rodrigo Tomasso. This film rates a B.
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