Review: THE VAST OF NIGHT
No films aren’t coming to theaters for a while, but new content is still being released. One of the more impressive upcoming releases is THE VAST OF NIGHT which manages to be a throwback to The Twilight Zone and radio science fiction drama, and a look back at both the optimism and existential dread of the late 1950s. And it does that with panache.
THE VAST OF NIGHT is set in the sleepy southwest town of Cayuga which becomes practically deserted for the local high school basketball game. A game everyone expects the home team to lose as a sly detail. Practically everyone is there except for 16 year old, idealistic, switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and not much older, cynical, local dj Everett (Jake Horowitz) and a handful of radio listeners. But strange sounds are heard interfering with the radio and calls reporting something hovering in the sky come in to the switchboard which sets off a mystery. Is it Mexican radio coming over the border, the Russians invading, or something out of this world? Whatever it is, Fay and Everett set out to find out what’s going on.
THE VAST OF NIGHT is the directorial debut of Andrew Patterson and it’s full of promise. THE VAST OF NIGHT is clearly not an expensive movie, the cast and settings are limited and much is left to the viewer’s imagination, but it’s stylishly directed. There are many long takes, including a 10 minute single take as the various events start to unfold, the acting very good across the board, there’s a real sense of time and place, and the use of closeups with darkness at the edge of the frame creates a real sense of unease and dread.
Much of the effect of the film is based on the dialogue. Calls start to come in to the station as Fay and Everett try to get to the bottom of things. Things get a lot more disquieting when they play the sounds they’re hearing on the air and get a call from Billy (Bruce Davis) who has a story to tell. There’s a lot of influence from classic radio, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the station’s call letters, WOTW, appear to reference War of the Worlds and Orson Welles’s famous broadcast. But, with Billy’s story, they seemingly form a bridge to the future and a classic conspiracy story that would be right at home on Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM. And that story is as gripping and chilling as the best of those type of conspiracy tales. Many times its just the characters listening and reacting, and the more Fay and Everett hear, the more they get sucked down into a dark nightmare. It doesn’t hurt that McCormick and Horowitz are very appealing performers that are easy to root for.
There are many ways to read THE VAST OF NIGHT. It’s an effective genre thriller for certain. But, it’s also a very effective time capsule, Fay and Everett are perched on the edge of the 1960s, the Kennedy Assassination, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and the emergence of the counter-culture, and their Rockwell Americana existence is about to be upended. Which is an irony as both Fay and Everett are eager to get out of the small town. Be careful what you wish for is certainly a lesson.
THE VAST OF NIGHT is coming to AMAZON PRIME on May 29th. It’s a real winner and fills a welcome hole with movie theaters shut down. I understand that there’s even a drive in release planned, so by all means check it out there if it’s playing near you.