Title: The Vast of Night
Describe This Movie In One Close Encounters Quote:
ROY NEARY: I guess you've noticed something a little strange with Dad. It's okay, though ... I'm still Dad.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Aliens love New Mexico.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3 "Eye in the Sky" singles out of 5.
Better Tagline: "Do you remember rock and roll radio?"
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: It's another night in the sleepy New Mexico town of Cayuga; the high school basketball team is playing their rival from Hobbs, and radio DJ Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz) is manning the airwaves. But when fellow teenager Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick), operating the town's switchboard, notices strange sounds coming from her radio, the two team up to look into the matter.
"Critical" Analysis: There's a long and (usually) storied history of UFOs in cinema, beginning back in 1950 (The Flying Saucer) and continuing on up through the present day. The Vast of Night, from first-time director Andrew Patterson (along with first-time screenwriters James Montague and Craig W. Sanger), serves as a throwback to the Red Scare parables of yore while offering some new tweaks. Some of which work better than others.
We've certainly seen these themes before: the hints of alien invasion and suggestion that our own government may be involved (Chris Carter milked the latter for 11 seasons). And The Vast of Night's deliberate approach might be challenging in the early going, but Patterson is clearly committed to it, and in the end, it pays off.
This focus suggests a much more experienced hand, for example, and where other newbie directors might be tempted to go for the throat right out of the gate, Patterson has no problem using long single takes, extended dolly shots and the subtly menacing cinematography of Miguel I. Littin-Menz to establish atmosphere.
But these scenes are also where lack of experience, both behind the camera and on the page, tends to show. The Vast of Night runs a spare 90 minutes, relying on lengthy monologues to pad even that out. Also, Patterson uses the framing device of a Twilight Zone-esque show called Paradox Theater, an initially amusing gimmick that threatens to become more distracting as the movie plays out.
For all that, it's pretty damned refreshing for a movie about possible invaders from another world approach the subject with restraint and suspense over pyrotechnics and jump scares. Patterson allow the dread and unease to build right up to the climax, a surprisingly touching sequence that also demonstrates how far the crew were able to stretch that budget.
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Montague and Sanger occasionally get too cute for their own good (Everett scoffs at Fay's description of a speculative magazine article about "tiny TV phones"), and his rat-a-tat dialogue threatens to become wearisome, but Horowitz (Everett could be the competent big brother to Rushmore's Max Fischer) and McCormick are up to the task. McCormick in particular deserves credit for engaging the audience.
And while the clearest parallels here are to Orson Welles's War of the Worlds broadcast (the call letters of Everett's radio station are "WOTW") and the paranoid sci-fi flicks of the '50s, but also hints of They Live, while the alien abduction subplot is reminiscent of everything from Fire in the Sky to Mulder and Scully.
After a premiere at the 2019
Sundance Slamdance Film Festival and a planned theatrical release this month, it's nice that The Vast of Night will finally see the light of day on streaming, but it's also a damn shame Patterson and company's beautifully atmospheric film will likely never be experienced on the big screen. Uneven as it can be, it deserves the theatrical experience.
The Vast of Night is streaming on Amazon Prime.