The Vast of Night review: A captivating debut
Sense of wonder8
Katherine McLaughlin | On 29, May 2020
Director: Andrew Patterson
Cast: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz
Watch The Vast of Night online in the UK: Amazon Prime
Andrew Patterson’s captivating debut feature pays affectionate and mischievous homage to 1950s sci-fi. His exciting and playful approach nods to modern invention and communication methods while capturing the innocence, awe and curiosity of the period setting. Working from a script written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, Patterson builds intrigue and suspense as he plays with form in astonishing and unpredictable fashion.
Patterson frames his film with a Twilight Zone-esque show, Paradox Theater, which introduces the audience to the inhabitants of a small town in Cayuga County, New Mexico through a retro TV set. Over the course of one night, telephone switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and local DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) investigate peculiar sounds on the airwaves and strange sightings in the sky. The rest of the population are hunkered down at the first high-school basketball game of the season, unaware of the mysterious goings-on.
The atmosphere is electric as we follow Fay and Everett on their journey into the unknown; they’re both ambitious and eager to escape their small-town lives. Their fast-talking, flirtatious dynamic embodies the spirit of a screwball romance blended with Richard Linklater’s Before… trilogy. McCormick and Horowitz are a charismatic pairing with undeniable chemistry. Their energetic turns are shot through with credible sincerity which filters through to all the performances even as the film slows down.
It’s not long before Everett and Fay attract others into their probing, breathless discovery. There’s a magnetic monologue from Gail Cronauer as a lonely, elderly woman, who shares her sad life story. The voice acting from Bruce Davis as an ex-soldier and first-time caller to Everett’s radio show is stirring and engaging. Both their tales are instilled with woe and warnings, and the film uses alien encounter tropes to build emerging themes about outsiders who dare to dream and those whose dreams are shattered by the constraints of society.
This is a film of firsts and teamwork, with the score from newcomers Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer (and music by Colton Turner) further intensifying the mood. They toy with familiar sounds, such as the clapping sequences of cheerleaders, and deliver eerie harmonies that swell to perfection as the film reaches its climax. From its suggestive title to the gleeful fixation on the technology of the time, all the parts of the film neatly fit together to form an exquisitely crafted debut with an intimate and exhilarating tone. The Vast of Night sparks Spielbergian wonder and embraces the obsessive and determined nature of its characters with all the gusto of the kids from Joe Dante’s Explorers.
The Vast of Night is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.