The Vast of Night

Picture it: small town New Mexico, sometime in the late 1950s. On this particular evening, the whole town is crowded into the high school gym to watch a basketball game. It’s literally standing room only. The players’ shorts are very short; the cheerleaders’ skirts are very long. The town’s streets are all but deserted. The only two people who seem not to be at the game are a couple of intrepid teenagers – fast-talking Fay (Sierra McCormick) is the town’s telephone switchboard operator and charismatic Everett (Jake Horowitz) is hosting a live radio show. Fay is of course very faithfully tuned into the radio program and notices the broadcast is briefly interrupted by a strange audio frequency.

Few witness it of course, most people being at the game, but one man who does calls in with quite a story. He’s heard these tones before. And boy does he have some theories. From there, Fay and Everett get caught up in a night neither will ever forget.

The Vast of Night is a pretentious title for a film eager to live up to that insinuation. Stylistically it’s reminiscent of The Twilight Zone; a retro sci-fi throwback that strains the limits of its (low) budget but proves good ideas trump production value when it comes to building a watchable, suspenseful film. Most of all I enjoyed the dynamic between the two young actors. McCormick in particular has a massive job handling a demanding long take but handles it like a true professional. The two really convey a sense of immediacy that contributes richly to the film’s ominous atmosphere.

Despite some very strong elements, I never quite liked the film as much as I wanted to. I didn’t really enjoy the film’s conceits, or director Andrew Patterson’s self-conscious attempts to use all the tricks in his bag in one go. And some of his choices are just confounding: why the black screen, for example? During a long exchange with a caller during the live radio broadcast, we mostly focus on Everett’s face as he absorbs the story, but sometimes the camera cuts away to…nothing. A totally black, blank screen. And then back to Everett, who continues to listen intently, sitting perfectly still, hardly giving anything away on his face, and then back to black. I’ve thought a long time about this choice and though I’ve come up with a few plausible scenarios, I don’t like any of them. It feels more like a mistake than a choice. Later on in the film, when two people are running across a field, the camera spends multiple lengthy takes focusing on knees down. This is likely a budgetary concern, either the shot cost them enough that they had to use it a little too liberally in order to justify it, or they simply couldn’t afford to show anything that might have happening thighs and above. Either way, I don’t want the line item to be so glaringly apparent on the screen.

What I do want is another film from Patterson, who’s clearly got some potential if he hasn’t already burned all his bridges (one of the items in the film’s IMDB trivia section is a list of all the film festivals who rejected the movie – a particularly ungracious display of privilege from a first-time white, male director, and some pretty juvenile sour grapes), and some better material for McCormick, who deserves to showcase her talent.

7 thoughts on “The Vast of Night

  1. Tom

    Yeah I did enjoy this but I too was confused by the cuts to black. There are some REALLLY talky scenes in this movie, jeez

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  2. Liz A.

    When filmmakers didn’t have the budget, they sometimes had to resort to some creative work arounds to tell the story. In some cases, that made the movies stronger. So, this kinda worked for that? Good to know.

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  3. Christopher

    This felt like a solid hour, or maybe fifty minute film stretched out to ninety minutes to make it “feature length”.
    I get that theatre-going audiences expect a long movie in exchange for what we pay for the privilege of sitting in the dark with strangers, but when a film is going straight to streaming I wish more directors would accept, even embrace, that runtimes don’t have to be so long.
    And, hey, once we can return to the theatres maybe they could screen shorter films together. A compressed version of Vast Of Night would be a nice B picture in a double feature.

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  4. Chris Door

    I loved this film.
    It took me by surprise and I was gripped from the start. Superb casting of the two leads, they were spellbinding and they made this film great. Camera & lighting were high quality. The neat trick of framing in black & white TV screen saved them a few bob.
    My view on the black screen during the telephone conversation, No.1 Was to hold our attention on what Billy was saying. I for one listened more closely and I felt I reminded you that it radio your listening to.
    No.2 It’s the POV of the aliens, listening to the radio conversation. Even though it wasn’t being broadcast at that point, they would be able to listen.
    One question I have for people is, at the end when we see the tape recorder on the ground in the middle of the ash, who’s footsteps were walking away? As they could only have been left after the wind.
    Anyway I may not know what I’m talking about but that’s my 2 pence worth.
    I really liked the film and didn’t think it was too long at all.
    Take care all.

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