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The Vast of Night

Released 2020. Director: Andrew Patterson

PART SCI-FI, PART MYSTERY, A TOTAL EVOCATION OF THE 1950s as an age of tension and paranoia and a complete homage to The Twilight Zone. The first thing you see is a television set as the camera closes in on a show just starting. It’s called the Paradox Theatre and even the introduction voice-over echoes the familiar Twilight Zone script about entering a new dimension.

And so the movie takes us into the TV show with the episode entitled The Vast of Night. The story takes place over the course of one night and starts at a high school gym where almost the entire town has gathered to watch the basketball final.

In an impressively fluid long take we’re quickly introduced to Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick), a couple of inquisitive and talkative teenagers engrossed with a new tape recorder. They chatter enthusiastically about new ideas like electric roads and TV phones of the future, unaware they will be inextricably involved with something unusual very soon. The Vast of Night is a movie built on sound and voices. Everett is a radio host and Fay is a telephone switchboard operator. One might say they have their ear to the ground, or more accurately in this case, an ear to the sky.

When Fay picks up a strange audio frequency at her switchboard her curiosity kicks into hyperdrive. She patches it over to Everett at the station who puts it on air asking if anyone recognises it. An air force veteran calls up with a rambling account about some assignments long ago which might have involved other-worldly vessels and the same sound was heard.

Fay and Everett spring into action, further compelled by an old lady with a goosebump inducing tale which convinces the pair that aliens have been making occasional visits to their neck of the wood for decades. The momentum of the movie is sustained by the breathless delivery of Fay and Everett. Their insatiable curiosity is matched by their boundless energy and tenacity as they keep spurring and fuelling each other. Whilst the script by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger dedicates huge chunks of time to the two of them talking ceaselessly, occasional moments of calm are superbly integrated to deepen the mood of mystery. There are really long shots of Fay at the switchboard when the camera hardly moves as she connects, scans and waits for the mysterious sound.

There’s an impressive trekking sequence where the camera weaves like a disembodied presence across empty streets, dark fields and car park into the crowded gym through a basketball game and out the same way into the still of night. Not only does it establish the physical geography of the story but it cleverly links the various locations and hints at the notion that the town is being watched and scanned without anyone being aware. What I find unnecessary is director Andrew Patterson reminding us that we’re watching a TV show by pulling the scene back and take the audience out of the picture, and then returning us inside the TV frame again. A momentary disconnect similar to a commercial break that unfortunately breaks the spell.

Visually the movie is very dark and the aesthetics would remind you of The X-Files. Some scenes are completely blacked out with only audio of a radio interview running. Whilst the visual style greatly enhances the atmosphere of a UFO mystery, sound plays an equally important, if not bigger, role, from the excited and urgent teenage voices to the audio frequency, from the phone connections to the radio interview. For a sci-fi, The Vast of Night is lean and economical. Most productions of this genre usually spare no expense, this one has no budget and I mean it as a compliment. The relative small-scale production belies its insidious effectiveness. As the two intrepid truth seekers are eventually swallowed by the night, this movie envelopes you in the shadows with its long stretches of stillness and deceptive simplicity.


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