The Vast of Night Movie Review: A simple, yet loveable scifi thriller
An intriguing scifi, that keeps your eyes glued to the screen from the word go
Remember that clever meme that called the whole of humanity an alien child's science project for which the kid likely got a low grade? The first shot of Amazon Prime Videos' The Vast of Night -- an unoccupied house where a futuristic-looking television is playing a show which happens to be the film -- reminded me of that meme. It's like the film is a regular soap opera for the aliens. The story is framed as an episode of Paradox Theatre, an anthology television series and a some googling revealed that it's a reference to the 1959 sci-fi show, The Twilight Zone. The referencing does not stop there as the events of The Vast of Night happens in a fictional town named Cayuga which is the name of the production house of The Twilight Zone.
Cast: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis
Director: Andrew Patterson
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
The Vast of Night is set in New Mexico of the 1950s, infamous for the Roswell UFO incident that sprang up a number of conspiracy theories and caused the word ‘ufology’ to make its way into our dictionaries. But debutant director Andrew Patterson's film is not about that, or to be precise, not just about that. There are no shabby video clips of a random ball of light in the sky. In fact, in this 90-minute film, the word ‘alien’ isn’t even uttered. What we get is the story of two teenagers bonding over a night that, from their eyes, for the lack of a better word, can only be termed as strange. This incident is from a time when people made jokes about getting electrocuted and losing all hair, a time when it was normal for kids to smoke in school, a time when casual racism was... casual.
Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick), a young switchboard operator and a self-described tech geek, accosts Everett (Jake Horowitz), a local radio jockey, who helps her with her new tape recorder. A single shot where they go around recording their conversations with the town folk establishes many key components such as the kind of people they are around, the size of the town, and of course, how they bond over their common interests: science and technology. They discuss a future with automated cars, vacuum tube transport, and "tiny tv telephone". Trouble comes in the form of strange audio frequencies that Fay encounters during her night shift. Followed by dropped phone calls, a call from someone called Billy (Bruce Davis) and a rendezvous with an old woman (Gail Cronauer) who narrates a story that's too creepy to be real, Fay decides to get to the bottom of it all with Everett.
Director Patterson, who brings James Montague and Craig W Sanger's terrific script to the screen, treads a careful line. The premise feels familiar in treatment—like films on extraterrestrials, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, and yet, the filmmaker brings a sense of freshness in execution. A name that's likely to be heard a lot more in the future, director Patterson proves his mettle with small touches, which include callbacks to the cold war and a story of a secret military mission that supposedly had only men of colour, as “people won't believe a black man”. MI Littin-Menz's extended tracking shot in the first half of the film is one of the best I've seen in recent times. The way the film is lit at night, makes it beautiful to behold. While on shots, how about that stellar nine-minute shot featuring McCormick? But the show-stealer is Gail Cronauer, who, despite limited screen time, delivers a brilliant monologue.
On the whole, The Vast of Night is simple and yet, a mind-bending sci-fi film that's sure to please lovers of the genre.