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Andrew Patterson’s The Vast Of Night is a textbook example of a film managing to create a lot out of a little. The plot is so high concept that its elevator pitch could be delivered before the bell rings for the first floor – two teens in the 1950s investigate a spooky mystery enveloping a small New Mexico town – and the whole thing unfolds in near-real time in just a handful of locations. As its woven, however, it becomes far more than the sum of its parts, and while the conclusion isn’t as strong as its setup, it remains a journey well-worth taking for the captivating ride and impressive cinematography.
The film marks the debut of its writer/director, who co-penned the script with Craig W. Sanger, and it’s so made in the spirit of classic 1950s sci-fi television serials that it’s framed as one – specifically a faux program called The Vast Of Night. As we are brought into the world within the show within the movie, we time travel to the town of Cayuga, New Mexico where we meet local whiz kid Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz), who is being pulled in multiple directions as everybody within a few square miles is preparing for a massive high school basketball game. Dominating his attention, though, is Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick), his spritely bespectacled friend who has just purchased a brand new audio recorder.
As the event starts to get underway, Everett and Fay part ways for their respective jobs, the former at the local radio station, and the latter at the town switchboard, but their time spent separately is short. Fay gets to work transferring calls, but she is more than sufficiently weirded out when a distressed neighbor alerts her about a mysterious sighting, and finds her the then dominated by an ominous, otherworldly noise. Contacting Everett, she gets him to play the sound over the air, leading them to start digging into a mystery involving strange military operations, dangerous radiation, missing people, and suspected alien activity.
The Vast Of Night is a vivid story brought to life with spell-binding camera work.
The Vast Of Night is not a film like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or Sam Mendes’ 1917 that is edited to seem like everything is happening in one continuous shot, it is made to still have the same kind of vim as the camera work lends a surprising kinetic energy to what is a primarily static story. There are long stretches of the movie fittingly dedicated to simply listening, and while that may not seem all that cinematic, the use of extended takes makes the audience feel like a perfect fly on the wall – as do long tracking shots that zoom us through the town, or follow Fay on foot as he travels from location to location.
Fully captivating on both its time and setting, the whole film is lit with an eerie artificial glow provided by lamps and streetlights, and combined with deep, saturated colors there is a mix of tension and nostalgia in the atmosphere. It seems to aim for “David Fincher meets Steven Spielberg” in its aesthetic, and it hits that target.
Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick are dazzling in the lead roles.
Youthful charm goes a long way in The Vast Of Night, and while the film asks a lot of Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick, putting the entire story on their shoulders, it’s weight that the young stars carry effortlessly. Horowitz’s Everett is the kind of guy who has answers for every question thrown his way (he knows it all, but isn’t a know-it-all), and has a compelling charisma that puts smiles on the faces around him – and that very much includes the audience. The moves he makes are moves you trust, and it’s exciting to watch an up-and-comer hold that dynamism.
Operating parallel, Sierra McCormick’s Fay is the one in the story who is asking all of the right questions, and it’s primarily her curiosity that we latch on to as The Vast Of Night plays out. With her horn-rimmed glasses and Nancy Drew-esque spirit, she is pure throwback, and you instantly fall for her as a protagonist. As a pair Horowitz and McCormick are magnificent, and it’s unquestionable that we will be seeing a lot more from both of them in the near future after these performances.
The Vast Of Night is mostly great, but its ending is only so-so.
Overall, The Vast Of Night is a movie that is easy to appreciate for both what it tries to do, and what it manages to do, but that appreciation also comes with recognition that its dismount has its issues. This not being a forum for spoilers, details will be saved, but what is fair to be expressed is that it provides an underwhelming conclusion. For a film that is inventive in its approach, and works effectively to create its own mythology of sorts, the end comes across as bland and uninspired. Fortunately it’s not the kind of thing that totally undermines everything that comes before it, but there is a certain lack of satisfaction that is delivered from the way the movie chooses to close things out.
Entertaining as The Vast Of Night is, what’s arguably most exciting about the movie is just the promise for the future it suggests. It borders on shocking that this film comes from a writer/director who has exactly zero other titles listed on his IMDb page, and I want to see Hollywood provide Andrew Patterson with a lot of resources very quickly. Likewise, Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick are now actors to keep a close eye on, as they’ll certainly be fielding some interesting offers. For now, though, audiences can simply enjoy an unexpected but great bit of indie science-fiction from the team.