Review by Sean Boelman
Clearly owing a lot of its style to the classic television show The Twilight Zone, Andrew Patterson’s retro sci-fi thriller The Vast of Night is definitely a lot of fun. And even though the film does suffer from some common first-time director mistakes, it uses its lean but ambitious script to its fullest extent.
The movie follows a young telephone operator and radio DJ in rural small-town New Mexico during the 1950s as they discover a mysterious transmission and attempt to investigate its origins. In terms of sci-fi premises, it isn’t anything particularly fresh or new, but the script by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger goes about it in an interesting way.
Much but not all of the film takes the form of long takes. It isn’t unusual for the movie to spend five minutes lingering on a character as she operates a switchboard or another as he talks on the phone with a source (only heard by voice). At a mere eighty-nine minutes long, there’s hardly any time to be wasted here, and every minute really does count.
Perhaps the biggest strength of Montague and Sanger’s script is its dialogue. The pacing of the dialogue is very unorthodox, but it consistently pays off. Towards the beginning of the film, they are firing dialogue back-and-forth rapidly, but in other scenes, someone is giving a protracted monologue, lingering on every single word.
The acting in the movie is also very strong. The chemistry between the film’s two stars, Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz, is a big part of what makes the movie move forward. McCormick in particular is extremely impressive, bringing a lot of humanity and humility to the character. Bruce Davis also gives a memorable turn in his voice role.
One of the more frustrating things about the film is its framing device. The movie presents itself as an entry into a fictional television show called “Paradox Theatre” with an introduction that’s a direct (and excessive) homage to the Twilight Zone, but it isn’t fully developed. If nothing else, maybe this will inspire a series of “Paradox Theatre” films, but it doesn’t work in this exact case.
On a technical level, there are some really gorgeous and exciting things happening here, although a few of the movie’s ambitious swings end up feeling more like misses. For example, there are a couple sequences that cut completely to black, and while the audio is effective, the absence of the image adds nothing to it.
The Vast of Night doesn’t have the most original of narratives, but it works pretty well regardless. Fans of science fiction, especially old-school genre flicks, will absolutely want to check this out.
The Vast of Night streams on Amazon Prime beginning May 29.
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