The Vast of Night is a low-budget science fiction film that exemplifies interesting characters, an intriguing story, and an immersive experience. Director Andrew Patterson frames the story as an homage of sorts to The Twilight Zone by introducing the movie as an episode for a series called Paradox Theater and then putting us in the 1950’s near a small town in New Mexico. There’s a sense of excitement that lingers in the air as we slowly get sucked into a vintage TV. A high school parking lot is jammed with cars as families get out and run around with laughter. There’s a big high school basketball game during the night and the whole town attends. It’s the event of the week. People are cheering, smoking, and being in the moment as a community. The towns people shake hands, hug, and ask about each other’s families – it really is the sort of town where everybody knows everybody. The energy is high and the camera weaves through the exciting commotion to introduce us to the two protagonists that carry the story onward. Introducing the film in such a manner sets the style with long takes, bantering monologues, and characters you’ll easily fall in love with. This is the introduction that Andrew Patterson immerses viewers with as The Vast of Night begins its adventure.
The film centers around a switchboard operator named Fay (Sierra McCormick) and a radio DJ named Everett (Jake Horowitz). The two come across a bizarre noise over the phone lines which sets them on an adventure to figure out what exactly it is after a caller calls in and gives them a small haunting tale of what it might be. How Andrew Patterson sets the situation up is brilliant for the fact he isolates Fay and Everett from the rest of the town and allows their vivacious personalities to breathe and shine. Horowitz and McCormick have a great on screen chemistry and watching their interaction with each other entrances the viewer to want to go on this journey with them.
The atmosphere that’s built around the setting and the story is hauntingly vintage. There are closed shops on a quiet night in a part of the town where it only feels like these two characters exist due to the events on the other side of the town. It almost feels like it’s dead when they set out on their adventure, because the city feels cold with no warm hues, unless it’s a streetlight shinning in the middle of the road to emphasize just how isolated they are from the rest of the town. However, there’s a sense of being present while we watch the camera linger on Fay and Everett’s interaction with their surroundings. There’s several ambitious oners (one take shots) in this feature film, and if you never thought watching somebody work a switchboard to transfer incoming calls could be intense and mesmerizing, The Vast of Night will prove you otherwise. After that shot ended, there was a feeling of coming out of reverie and realizing there were no cuts. That’s not even the best of the oners that are utilized, it would be a shame to spoil one that left me scratching my head trying to figure out how in the hell they pulled it off. There’s also a nuance about the overall piece that feels like it can also be a radio show, which is pretty clever seeing as the radio is a huge plot device for the film. It’s very Orson Welles-esque in a sense due to the fact we hear a rather chilling sound come through the radio waves and callers start calling into the station to talk about it. There’s an uneasiness that rests in the air. Just imagining being in that time period and listening to the radio hearing this talk show question the origins of the sound is pretty damn chilling. Is it a hoax? Is it real? What exactly is it? And that’s exactly what Patterson wants our focus to be on; the origins of the unknown in the vast of night. That’s what truly makes this movie so thrilling and fun.
As much impressiveness as there is to the movie as a whole with its style, the one drawback that took me out of it at times was the use of its framing as being an “episode” to this made up television show introduced in the beginning. I get it’s supposed to feel like we are watching another entry of The Twilight Zone, but I think doing that put these restraints on it as if it has to live up to the classic in some way. There are points in the movie when they pan back to reveal the vintage television set “airing” the film and then it would slowly pan back in to show time passage. It’s an odd choice to do that when the film is picking up its pace and risks the viewer to get sucked out of the story that it spent 30 minutes or so trying to suck us in. I get it if it was a budgetary thing, but it also feels like there could have been other ways to go about that because it adds another style on top of the use of long takes with bantering monologue they already have going. In the end, it just feels like a mixed bag of different styles and for a split moment the film becomes lost in . It might be a nit-picky thing to count as a flaw, but it sticks out like a sore thumb upon reflection. I will say, however, it does leave an open question as to whether or not Andrew Patterson is trying to set something else up to coexist in this universe he has created and this “episode” truly is an episode to a bigger anthology that has yet to be seen. That’s a creative decision I can respect and perhaps come around to eventually appreciate if that’s what is being done.
For being a low-budget feature film, it tackles the science-fiction genre pretty seamlessly and only elevates the expectation bar even higher for independent filmmakers alike. After sitting on this for a few days after the initial viewing, I can firmly say I really enjoyed this despite my minor gripe with a certain structural element. I wish I could have seen this on the big screen partially to witness one particular scene on the big screen involving a oner, but to also give credit where it’s due and say Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz deserve to have their talent be seen on the big screen. Their chemistry, the cinematography, and the overall mise-en-scène of The Vast of Night makes this a recommended watch, especially since the world has gone mad and we’re all stuck at home. It recently came out on Amazon Prime, so check it out on there!