As we all struggle through the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, Amazon Studios brings us an unexpected gift with The Vast of Night; an ambitious sci-fi tale with filled with old-fashioned reserve and boundless ambition.
In an era where spectacle reigns supreme, it is refreshing to see such a slow-burning story told with real verve, panache and a true love for spoken-word storytelling.
Set in New Mexico in the 50’s, The Vast of Night is the story of radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) and enamoured telephone exchange operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) as they work together to discover the origin of a mysterious radio signal that interrupts both his radio show and Fay’s switchboard connections.
While the town is gathered together for the big high-school basketball game, our intrepid duo deal with mysterious radio guests with extraordinary accounts, reports of lights in the sky and a haunted woman who may hold the key to the strange noises and sightings in the dark heavens above.
The Vast of Night is a beautiful movie, filled with mind-boggling tracking shots that seem to last forever and a neat framing device that posits the film as a lost episode of an anthology show in the vein of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.
In content, this is an apt comparison; in tone, the Steven Spielberg show Amazing Stories is more its spiritual touchstone, as every frame seems to drip with that sort of Amblin-esque, otherworldly magic.
Director Andrew Patterson shows real flair at every opportunity and his leads rise to the occasion delivering the motor-mouthed period appropriate dialogue like two witty machine guns rat-a-tatting back and forth.
A tracking shot midway through the movie, racing through what feels like the entire town in one fluid, uninterrupted motion will leave you in awe at the skill the rookie director employs.
While the visual style of the film is to be applauded, it never loses sight of the story being told and the character driven narrative that builds tension and mystery in equal measure. For a first- time director, he has announced himself to the world with aplomb and will be a name to keep an eye on in the future.
The Vast of Night is a film in no rush to spill its secrets nor worry about action; indeed, it is a film where most of what is going on is obfuscated by the tight focus of its narrative. Much like 2008’s Pontypool (also set in a radio station), much of the story is told through other people’s accounts and memories and we are asked to interpret the validity of their words alongside Everett and Fay.
As we follow their journey through this small New Mexico town (though never spoken aloud, the spectre of Roswell looms over the film ominously) we uncover the truth alongside them.
With The Vast of Night, Andrew Patterson has delivered a taught, clever and beautiful film that wears its influences on its sleeve. It is a slow-building, character piece chock full of brilliant dialogue and well-pitched performances; it is a testament to the strength of the film that when the dialogue stops and silence takes over for the final act, the visual language of the film is able to seamlessly take the lead and deliver an ending that is both memorable and audacious in it’s simplicity.
A modern classic not to be missed, the audience of The Vast of Night may well be checking the skies themselves, daring for a glimpse of what lies beyond the veil of our world and the stars beyond.
And the hope that there might just be more than this.
By Hugh McStay
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