The Vast of Night may not revolutionize the sci-fi genre, but it introduces director Andrew Patterson as a new and promising voice who understands why we love sci-fi stories and takes us back to a time when we were fascinated with the idea of the future and were hopeful for what it could bring.
The movie begins with a black and white broadcast playing on an old, square TV set. The deep voice of a Rod Serling-like host tells of a place between time and space, between science and superstition. No, not the Twilight Zone, but “Paradox Theater,” a fictional series that serves as the framing device for the story we’re about to see. The black and white show expands into the wide, colorful The Vast of Night, and so begins a loving homage to not only Serling’s masterpiece and The Outer Limits, but also ’50s radio dramas and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
In one of many long takes, the fluid camerawork in The Vast of Night places us in a high school parking lot before a big basketball game that remains in the background of the story throughout the film. Here we meet recent graduate and late-night DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) and high school student Fay (Sierra McCormick), who is also a tech enthusiast and works the night shift at the local telephone switchboard office. While the entire town is enjoying the game, Fay leaves for her shift, where she gets a strange call from a woman claiming there are things above her house, and both her phone lines and Everett’s radio signal start getting interrupted by faint voices talking through loud and heavy static.
From there, the two radio enthusiasts try to uncover the secret behind the mysterious transmission and the apparent bright lights people in town have seen in the sky. The Vast of Night uses its setting not only to explore a nostalgia for the past and to milk the paranoia and obsession with UFOs from the ’50s, but it also explores the fascination we used to have with science and the bright future that awaited us.
Fay constantly talks about the magazine articles she reads describing future technology like phones with screens and high-speed trains. She also looks at every piece of analog technology with childlike wonder, whether it’s the new tape recorder she got or the radio station where Everett works. Director Andrew Patterson combines the nostalgia for small-town America from movies like The Iron Giant with Steven Spielberg’s sense of wonder in the face of mysterious technology and events like those in Close Encounters–including a John Williams-inspired music score that infuses the story with a sense of adventure.
That being said, Patterson doesn’t look at the past exclusively through rose-colored glasses. As Everett starts hearing from people who know what’s going on, we realize it’s people of color and women who are calling–and no matter how often they try to tell the truth, no one will listen. It’s a small touch, but a poignant reminder of the importance of letting marginalized voices be heard and not glossing over the past’s flaws for the sake of nostalgia.
The Vast of Night features exquisite sound design that is essential to the story being told. Leaning into its radio influences, the film accentuates small auditory details like the hum of crickets and the winding sound of tape feeding through a recorder. This becomes even more important once the film starts to dive into moments of absolute darkness, with only the sound of voices to guide us through the story. The characters speak through long monologues that help place the movie in a heightened reality outside of our own and bring out excellent performances from the film’s cast. The movie also uses Aaron Sorkin-style lightning-fast dialogue to signal that we should pay attention to every detail, or risk the possibility of missing something crucial as the mystery unfolds. Luckily, the cast–particularly McCormick and Horowitz–manages to make their lengthy monologues gripping and intriguing, making you want to lean in and pay close attention to every detail of what they’re saying.
Though it feels like a radio drama (and I would be very much into an alternative cut of the movie with only the sound), Patterson still uses the visual medium well. The director employs extreme close-ups to get us right into the actors’ performances, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere that makes us feel like we’re all crammed inside the radio booth. There is also one long take that not only looks great, but leaves you with a comprehensive lay of the land–its geography, as well as the community that lives in it.
The Vast of Night may not bring about a dozen imitators like the shows and films to which it pays homage, but it does everything it attempts to do right. This is a remarkable debut that signals the arrival of a future genre powerhouse in director Andrew Patterson, with a throwback story, excellent sound design, fantastic performances, and one long take for the ages.
Source: Game Spot Mashup