Film Review: ‘The Vast Of Night’
— Scott Baumgartner
With so many close encounters, abductions and invasions packed into the alien/UFO sub-genre of science fiction, is there even room for a cinematic outlook that isn’t tinged with cringy familiarity and tired clichés? This appears to be the question director Andrew Patterson confronts with his ambitious debut, The Vast Of Night (in drive-ins and streaming on Prime Video from May 29).
The film takes viewers to the sleepy town of Cayuga, New Mexico in the 1950s where a puzzle is slowly unearthed by an intrepid pair of would-be detectives. Everett (Jake Horowitz), the town’s young radio host and Fay (Sierra McCormick), a plucky teenage switchboard operator, quickly find themselves out of their depth when a strange sound interrupts the former’s broadcast one night. Simultaneously, some bizarre and unsettling reports start coming in — not to mention a caller with a stranger-than-fiction story.
While most alien-encounter tales aim for face-melting visuals and a breakneck narrative, Patterson’s film, written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, is far more measured and meditative. It opts for slow-burn thrills, focussing in intricate, immersive camerawork and detailed staging. That’s not to say it doesn’t include some dazzling imagery. When it goes for the gusto, it hits its mark, particularly with a single tracking shot that is guaranteed to mesmerize.
But the beating heart of The Vast Of Night is Everett and Fay’s near-constant interplay. Fast and furious the words fly, nodding to Aaron Sorkin’s signature walk-and-talk M.O. Their conversation throughout is equal parts quaint, infuriating and deeply touching. A story like this needs a duo to root for and, in that regard, Patterson succeeds in spades.
Would average fans of X Files or The Twilight Zone fall head-over-heels for this one? It’s hard to say. The Vast Of Night isn’t a casual viewing experience. Scene by scene, it tackles big ideas and follows a very particular tempo. Most often, the meat of this brainy adventure arrives through dialogue and restrained performances, often to brilliant effect.
The rewards of The Vast Of Night are numerous, but, in this particular age of near-exclusively home viewing, it’s a challenge. Yet, like Everett and Fay’s out-of-this-world mystery, the end result is pretty breathtaking.