Director: Andrew Patterson | Screenwriter: James Montague, Craig W. Sanger | Cast: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz | Distributor: Amazon Studios | Running Time: 89 min. | MPAA Rating: PG-13
I have to admire the boldness of The Vast of Night casting no doubt of what it’s trying to be. It’s a Twilight Zone episode, announced with a 1950s television with the mono blaring and the black-and-white crackling. Of course, the whole film isn’t in this style as it has a bit more ambition. And while there is a Rod Serling style opening narration, I kept hoping it would close out the picture sooner than later, if only to hone the brilliance of this directorial debut by Andrew Patterson.
The best and worst that can be said of the picture is that it feels as though Quentin Tarantino directed an episode of The Outer Limits. The dialogue lingers long, scenes go long before cutting, and the fantastical elements are kept to a minimum for the climax. We get to hang out with the characters and become a bit more invested in their everyday lives and dreams before we go deep into divulging the mystery of a sleepy 1950s town on the verge of an alien encounter.
Two teens are followed on a busy night in Cayuga, New Mexico. Everett is the local wiz of most of the behind the scenes elements of the evening’s basketball game, namely electronics. His skills attract the aspiring reporter Fay, eager to figure out how to use a tape recorder. Though Everett has a busy night ahead of him, he can carve out just enough time on his walk to the radio station to show her how tape recorders work. She tests it out and the two hit things off on their way to their evening work while the rest of the town takes in the game.
Where the intrigue starts and never stops is a mysterious call Fay encounters on the local phone boards. Some strange noise is heard in the background. It sounds so odd that Fay just has to find out what it is. She taps Everett for information and he taps into his radio audience to see if they have clues. One does. Soon, a mystery is revealed and aliens don’t seem as far away as one may have thought.
Though the film ultimately meanders quite a bit in its long passages, there’s a faith Patterson has in his camera that I have to admire. He lets scenes go on to a point where it feels we’re constantly tagging along, taking conversations out of buildings and into parking lots. When we’re stuck in a room, he wants us to listen and has so much confidence in our imagination he flat-out drops the visuals and goes to black. When we leave the room and need to skip across town, the camera ventures out of the building and takes us on a long-take trip through town, zooming around the parking lot and basketball game before getting to the radio stations.
While the filmmaking kept me engaged by switching up its many meandering banter with some creative transitions, I kept hoping that there was perhaps some stronger allegory present with the slow-burn momentum. While there is a bit of a conclusion for those seeking an answer for aliens, the ultimate reveal leaves the mystery somewhat ambiguous, which is not the worst way to end the picture but striking unusual for a film so bold and brash with its characters and style.
The Vast of Night is a strong first effort from a first-time director that I was more enticed by what he’ll do next than what’s currently on the screen. The whole film has the presence of a Twilight Zone episode that goes on a bit too long. It keeps itself so wrapped in its aloofness that by the end of the film I was more entertained by the style than the substance. I have faith that Patterson can plan out a more amazing film in the same way he has faith in his camera.