The Vast of Night, 2019.
Directed by Andrew Patterson.
Starring Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Erick Alexander, and Jared Bulmer.
In the twilight of the 1950s, on one fateful night in New Mexico, a young, winsome switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and charismatic radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) discover a strange audio frequency that could change their small town and the future forever.
It takes a confident vision to essentially make a grounded sci-fi thriller that amounts to an episodic series of intricate conversations, bringing it in for a landing that is both heavily foreshadowed and not necessarily surprising but also expansively thought-provoking. The Vast of Night envelops one in the 1950 small-town’s darkness only to leave them pondering the universe on a grander scale; it’s an astounding debut feature from Andrew Patterson.
The fresh filmmaker (operating on a script from James Montague and Craig W. Sanger) right away establishes real-time pacing that is simultaneously controlled and chaotic. Most of the residents are packed into the high school gymnasium to watch a basketball game, whereas Everett and Fay (Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick respectively) collaborate together putting out the nightly radio show. Everett is the host whereas Fay handles the switchboard from another location. On one of the radio frequencies, she begins to hear a mysterious and ominous oscillating sound, an almost otherworldly noise that sounds like something ripped right out of the trademark radio mechanic in the Silent Hill games. The idea of a small town experiencing something unexplainable with an emphasis on the geography of the area (during one transition the camera glides between various buildings and landmarks at ground level for an intimate sense of spatial awareness) only adds to that parallel.
Nevertheless, our two protagonists begin discussing the phenomena (it really must be stressed that everything here plays out as incredibly lengthy sequences that rarely ever feel stretched beyond their purpose, sometimes as unbroken shots) only for a listener to call in (Bruce Davis) with some startling revelations pertaining to his days in the military that relate to the ongoings of the night. And not only does The Vast of Night absorb the viewer with these highly detailed stories, Andrew Patterson again shows a high level of faith in his work, at one point bringing the visuals to pitch black as we listen on. The filmmaker even finds the time the sprinkle in a little social politics as this particular caller happens to be African-American, also commenting on those around him thinking he was crazy for once talking about the things he has seen just because he happens to be black.
That said, none of the characters feel defined or fleshed out beyond personality idiosyncrasies. In a way, that’s not the worst thing here as once it becomes clear what the story of The Vast of Night is saying, it’s natural that we don’t really get to know these people. Still, Fay has a wonderfully imaginative mind talking about possibilities for the future in a nearly 10-minute scene that puts the narrative more into perspective than one might realize by the climax. Everett is not as interesting, but he does put on a different voice for the radio show and offers some encouragement to the bubbly and inquisitive Fay.
Minor flaws aside (for as good as the first 20 minutes are at setting the pace and style, some of it could be shaved off), there’s not much worth faulting or changing about The Vast of Night. It’s not a complex narrative, but that’s made up for with the deep thinking results. This is a singular vision from beginning to end (with an assortment of outstanding performances) marking the arrival of an already exciting new filmmaker. It’s definitely a film that stays in your mind, which is actually why I waited a couple of days before actually writing about it. Seek this out and get lost in the darkness.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com