The Vast of Night
Directed by Andrew Patterson
Written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger
Starring Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis, Greg Peyton
Premiering at Slamdance 2019, Andrew Patterson’s “The Vast of Night” is one of those late-night delectables that you would find on basic cable. It has a strong cast, even stronger visuals and a story that compels you, but is more interested in letting the visuals carry its throughline than the characters can.
That is its charm.
To wit, the opening frame focuses on a console television with a ‘Twilight Zone’-style TV show called ‘Paradox Theater.’ Set in the 1950s, where stories like H. G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” still fueled imagination with hushed stories of flying saucers in the sky and little green men in New Mexico, much of it unchecked and unconfirmed.
As “the show” gets going, Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) has an intellectual curiosity about radio technology; she wants to be a part of what’s going on around her. Everett (Jake Horowitz) is the school’s know-it-all as a dolly shot follows Everett around their high school gymnasium, prepping for a basketball game.
Patterson focuses our attention on the characters. There is a fascination on the part of Fay to be recorded, and yet, she doesn’t trust herself enough to hold a microphone. Everett has a coolness about him, where life seems to flow through him. He’s an “everybody,” and he knows it. Individually, they would not believe the happenings around the sleepy town. Together they make a formidable team; they encourage one another’s intellectual curiosities, and they know that there is more to the vast night than just the radio.
The visual look and feel is a critical component to their characters and to keeping the hairs on the backs of our necks standing on end for 89 minutes. M. I. Littin-Menz’s cinematography is the strongest single element of the film. Shot in a blue hue, an element that is introduced at the start of the film permeates the audience’s subliminal consciousness throughout. The blue aura is only visible in outdoor scenes; indoors, there is a warmer yellow, yet it feels muted as if you’re inside of a dream.
These choices give “The Vast of Night” a vintage noir feeling as our young protagonists seek out the numerous reports of UFO sightings throughout one particular night. As a switchboard operator, Fay is first to know what is going on in the world. Curiously, her switchboard is in a windowless shack; the radio was a very powerful instrument for conveying information in the 1950s, just as the Internet is as powerful if not an even more powerful tool today.
As a radio host, Everett still retains his cool. Still, there is also a healthy dose of skepticism in the character as he takes a call in which a retired airman recounts a story of the military doing work on a secret project. “No one knows everything,” the airman tells Everett, saying he doesn’t have all the details because they were only brought in for specific pieces of the project. The airman points the duo to another source of information, something far more credible than a voice in the night. It is the kind of piecemeal type storytelling that keeps us glued to the story; we want to know more about what’s happening, and the third act does not disappoint.
“The Vast of Night” is the type of story that uses all of its elements to create a fascinating and wild ride. The story sags just a bit in the middle, where very little happens. However, the visual style of the film and the climax of the film are worth the price of admission.