The Vast of Night is directed by Andrew Patterson; the film is his directorial debut. The movie stars Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis, and Greg Peyton. The film premiered in 2019 at the Slamdance Film Festival, and was released to Amazon Prime Video on May 29, 2020.
The film is presented as an episode of Paradox Theatre, a (fictional) anthology-style television series. In the 1950s, a small idealistic town is shaken when a strange sound is heard over the local radio waves. Two high school friends, a female switchboard operator, and a male radio DJ, set out to investigate the mystery. It isn’t long before other people begin to call in, sharing their own stories. But what is the mystery behind these sounds?
I had never heard of anyone involved with this film prior to seeing it, and quite honestly, didn’t have the slightest idea of what to expect from it. Amazon Prime Video has been the distribution ground for some great films in recent years… but also some not so great. With its attention to period detail, storytelling, and intriguing premise, not to mention some great young actors, The Vast of Night comes as a pleasant surprise, even if a few overlong monologue sections do threaten to kill the momentum from time to time.
One of my favorite things about films is the ability they have to transport the audience to eras long gone in the real world. Here, we find ourselves in a small New Mexico town in the 1950s, complete with vintage cars, massive phone switchboards, and even a population who lives to crowd the high school just to watch their basketball team perform. The Vast of Night is many things, and pretty to look at is certainly one of them.
Another way the movie goes for effective period detail is in its framing device. The movie is framed as an episode of “Paradox Theatre,” a clear homage to anthology shows like The Twilight Zone andThe Outer Limits. Hell, even the town in the movie is named Cayuga, which was the name of Rod Serling’s production company! We even see a few scenes through old rounded tube TV sets, and while the movie does overuse this gimmick at times, I definitely found myself smiling at the homages.
The film even manages to create an unsettling mood without big budget special effects and CG; only one sequence is reliant on effects to create something unworldly, and even then, this never threatens to turn the film into something overblown or overdone. Long tracking camera shots across the landscape of the New Mexican town also do their part in establishing the mood.
The cast is superb as well, with McCormick and Horowitz having great chemistry in all their scenes together. Even the supporting players around town help to do an effective job in establishing the mood, making the movie all the more memorable. Everyone more-or-less behaves how you’d expect them to under the circumstances given in the film, of the time period.
While a damn good first effort from director Patterson, it does tend to lose momentum in a few places. Much of the movie is monologue-heavy, with people sharing stories. In one scene we literally just watch a person talk for several minutes. In another similar sequence, the screen goes black at several points during another story. Couldn’t we have gotten some visuals to go along with these stories to make the tales a little more vivid and attention-grabbing? Fortunately, this is the biggest problem in an otherwise fine film.
If you’ve got Amazon Prime Video, you owe it to yourself to watch The Vast of Night. It’s only about 90 minutes long, so it’s a quick watch and something which manages to make an impact in its relatively limited running time. Check it out!
Rating: Three stars out of four.
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