Movie Review: The Vast of Night
The Vast of Night takes place in the late 1950s in Cayuga, New Mexico, a small town near the Mexican border. A sound comes across the airwaves and Fay, the switchboard operator, and Everett, the night time DJ, team up to investigate while nearly everyone else in town is off enjoying the high school basketball game. Soon, come the reports of strange things in the sky and other weird happenings. Is it the Soviet invasion or is it an invasion of a different kind? The film stars Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Bruce Davis, Cheyenne Barton, Gregory Peyron, Ingrid Fease, Brandon Stewart, and Gail Cronauer. It is directed by Andrew Patterson and written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger. The film is exclusively streaming on Amazon Prime.
I was enthralled by The Vast of Night. It sticks with you after you watch it because you realize all the clues were there. While you were worried that too much of the film ignores the "show don't tell" mantra, it sneaks up and takes your breath away. While you didn't understand the framing and intermittent device of the Twilight Zone type television show, it actually makes sense within the grand scheme of the story. This is a well written and executed film that makes for an excellent mystery.
What director Andrew Patterson has built out of James Montague and Craig W. Sanger's script is truly marvelous. It's innovative and exciting low budget filmmaking. The first of the sequences that left me in the greatest awe is as Billy, a caller to the radio station, is describing his experiences with the sound. Rather than cutting between Everett and Fay to make it look more exciting, the picture just slowly fades to black. It's almost as if Patterson and crew are asking us to help film the movie. We're able to use our imaginations as we stare into the black to truly take in what Billy's saying and the implications of if he's telling the truth. It's a fascinating filmmaking experiment to take the visual medium and make it purely auditory for a moment.
That isn't to say that The Vast of Night isn't visually stunning. Patterson with the help of veteran cinematographer, M.I. Littin-Menz, create some incredible dynamic shots of walking, talking, running, and driving I've seen. The second of the sequences that left me in greatest awe is as Fay sends the sound to Everett at the station. Fay throws open the door of the switchboard office and the camera goes low. It flies along the ground and through the town, zig zagging and going up and over. It even goes through the basketball game that's still in progress, winding through the players, checking in on the announcers, seeing fans and cheerleaders, then up, out a window and down to the radio station. I could watch that on a loop it's so satisfying.
Yet, even as I explained earlier, that some pieces make sense after seeing the whole, it doesn't mean they don't still bug me. I really didn't like the framing device of the television show. Sure, give the audience a little taste at the beginning, that's fun, but when it breaks in to the main brunt of the story and not in a fun cheeky way, but in some utterly confounding ways, it's a little disappointing. The same goes for the second scene of someone telling Everett their story. The content of Mabel's tale is enthralling and fascinating, but to watch her tell it for however long it takes to tell gets a little tedious. I wish they had enough time and money to hire a couple of actors to be in the scene's Mabel describes.
Though, I will say, as an actress, Gail Cronauer is very interesting. She plays Mabel with a unique mix of longing and wisdom. Her performance is mostly from profile, but she keeps our attention and is able to breathe life into the story she tells. It's not rushed or lagging, it's at just the right tempo and speed. When she finally gets her close up, she makes the most of it, showing just how much she knows and longs to know in one expression. It's a performance I really enjoyed among some other great and comedic turns.
I highly recommend The Vast of Night. It's the kind of film that, if our current way of life didn't prevent, I would seek it out on the biggest screen I could find. It's a film that has a depth that doesn't fully reveal itself until the end and even then it leaves you with a lot of invigorating questions. Seek this one out and let's talk about that ending.