“The Vast of Night”- Movie Review
Today, we’re taking a look at a debut. Not just any debut, but a debut from a filmmaker native to Oklahoma, my home state. Any chance I have to promote the work of a fellow Okie is one I’ll gladly take. Thankfully, the film under review is a good film, which makes boasting a lot easier.
The Vast of Night is directed by Andrew Patterson and written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger. It stars Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz as a pair of teenagers who discover something not of this world. The setting is a misty evening in 1950s New Mexico. Fae Crocker (played by McCormick) and Everett Sloan (played by Horowitz) settle into their respective jobs as a switchboard operator and disc jockey while the rest of their small town attends a basketball game at the local high school. The night starts out slow, typical. That all changes when a strange frequency is caught on the radio. As Fae and Jake start investigating, they quickly realize that something otherworldly may be hiding among them.
I had never heard of this movie until a few months ago. It hopped on my radar through word of mouth, namely through the mouths of youtube critics. So when I saw the title listed on Amazon Prime last weekend, I recognized it immediately and decided to check it out. Watching it, you can definitely tell this was a movie made on a very minimal budget. There are a lot of subtleties, both in terms of how the story plays out and how the production is put together. The sets are small, the camerawork simple, the cast is made up of only a handful of actors. The special effects are used sparingly, at just the right moments. The whole thing feels like one of those movies you could only find at a film festival, and as someone who’s worked in film festivals, trust me, that’s a compliment.
The filmmakers behind The Vast of Night made great due with what they had. When you look at the story by itself, it isn’t anything superb. But because it’s coupled with good direction, good acting and good cinematography, it works so much better once it’s put into motion. The lead actors, McCormick and Horowitz, are believable in their roles, and feel very much of the time the film is set. As director, Patterson sets an eerie atmosphere. It’s a subtle sense unease, that kind that balloons with intensity as the story gains traction. And because everything takes place over the course of one night, there’s an added sense of urgency, with the events feeling very in the moment.
The production as a whole is where the film’s biggest strength lies. The grainy, low budget quality gives the impression that you’re watching a Twilight Zone episode. I’ll admit that while the cinematography is very good, the visual style took time to get used to. The color palette, ripe with dark browns and mustard yellows, makes the opening scene look like something out of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video. It’s not an aesthetic I find particularly pleasing to look at, but that’s just a stupid nitpick. Nothing distracting enough to take away from the experience. Even so, if my biggest gripe about a movie concerns a type of color being used, then you know that film is doing something right.
The biggest strength of Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night is its minimalism. Despite having basic sci-fi alien invasion elements in its narrative, it’s executed so well and radiates such a unique vibe that you don’t even care. The film knows how to get you hooked and keep you compelled. As of writing this, this movie is available to stream on Amazon Prime. So if you’re a sci-fi fan or an admirer of sci-fi mysteries, definitely check this one out.