‘The Vast Of Night’ Review: New Voices Tell An Old Story

Humans have always wondered if there was something out in the stars; something trying to contact us. Stories of aliens visiting our race date back to the beginning of cinema. In the new film, The Vast of Night, that story is told once again, this time on a micro budget with a cast and crew of newcomers, and the end result is a pretty spectacular cinematic event, framed like an old Twilight Zone-type of TV episode.

The Vast of Night opens with local DJ, Everett Sloan, played by relative newcomer Jake Horowitz, as he works to get his small New Mexico town’s gymnasium ready for the weekly high school basketball game. He is joined by Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick), a young girl who loves science and broadcasting. Fay works the local telephone switchboard that night, covering for her friend.

When the young switchboard operator picks up a weird noise coming into the lines, she calls Everett, who’s currently on-air, and together they stumble upon a mystery that has far reaching origins and histories, involving the military, coverups, and more.

Everett helps the sound guys at the gym

The Vast of Night is a spectacularly made film from top to bottom. The director, Andrew Patterson, and the cinematographer, Miguel Ioann Littin Menz, have created something incredibly magical here. Patterson uses unique ways to show viewers the town, using long dolly and tracking shots, and by the end, I felt like I too could run from the radio station to the high school, as I seemingly knew the way.

The performances by both leads were exceptional, and I really enjoyed the fact that I did not recognize any of the actors in this production. It gave The Vast of Night a unique feel — this could be any town in the 1950s, and these could be any people. That unfamiliarity worked in the film’s favor.

Fay hears a noise

Both leads were amazing in their delivery of lines. The period costumes were pretty much spot on, and having been born in a small New Mexico town myself, there was a weird sense of home. I know it wasn’t filmed in New Mexico, but there were certain things that I can remember as a kid that they were able to recreate and it made a difference.

The story was solid as a period drama, but the script by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger was a bit too monologue heavy. It seemed like they were trying to recreate Robert Shaw’s iconic Jaws scene every 15 minutes or so. The film wasn’t very suspenseful or scary, and plays more like a drama with sci-fi elements than a heart-pounding thriller.

The writers could have spent a little less time on wordy monologues and more time developing a real antagonist to create some kind of tension. Even so, The Vast of Night still exhibits all the hallmarks of suspenseful film, it just never lives up to its promise.

The Vast of Night stumbles when it relies too heavily on the old TV show motif. At one point it the camera draws back to show the framing of watching through a television screen and then goes back to the film and then pulls back again to the TV almost a minute later.

Those kind of transitions ended up being a distraction in the grand scheme of things. I understand what the director was going for when devising it this way, but ultimately it fell flat. If they had just stuck with using it for the opening and the closing it would have been fine. But trying to create commercial breaks between the acts just didn’t work.

Fay and Everett listen

Unfortunately, other than the aliens or the unidentified noise, there’s not really much there in terms of an antagonist in this film, and that saps the possibility of tension. More time is devoted to the monologues and the young actress running back and forth between key locations for most of the film than developing any kind of real threat. The cinematography and directing were amazing, drawing immediate comparisons to early Steven Spielberg, and for that reason alone, this is a film that must be seen.

All in all I really enjoyed the film, and for a bunch of first-timers both in front and behind the camera, they all deserved to be watched for whatever comes next in their very promising careers. The Vast of Night is also very much a calling card for this new batch of actors and filmmakers who have a strong creative voice and I cannot wait to see what these people do in the future.

The Vast of Night is available now on Amazon Prime.

Aliens visit in The Vast of Night
out of 5

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