The 400-Word Review: The Vast of Night
By Sean Collier
May 14, 2020

The Vast of Night

You don’t have to wait for “The Vast of Night” to announce its influences. As the film begins, a Rod Serling imitator provides a “Twilight Zone”-style opening narration as the camera zooms in on a black-and-white television. This isn’t an officially licensed “Twilight Zone” film — the name of the serial in this version is “Paradox Theatre” — but with its mid-century, science-obsessed, uncanny-in-a-small-town presentation, it might as well be.

Other points of reference are more subtle. (My favorite: The radio station in town bears the call sign WOTW, as in “War of the Worlds.”) But “The Vast of Night,” a film festival favorite from rookie director Andrew Pattinson, is very much a thesis statement for a certain type of nostalgic, sepia-toned science fiction.

This isn’t the new weird; it’s a return to the classic weird.

The principles of this dream within a dream are Everett (Jake Horowitz), a demonstratively cool radio DJ, and Fay (Sierra McCormick), a high schooler and part-time switchboard operator. After a long stroll from the high school basketball game to their small Arizona town’s humble business district, both teens man their posts — he spinning pre-rock 45s, her connecting callers.

A sudden phenomenon shakes up the evening. A bizarre, mechanical tone breaks into the radio broadcast; a moment later, Fay gets a call emitting the same sound. After Everett deliberately plays the mysterious noise over the airwaves a second time, asking for help, a caller reaches out with tales of clandestine military installations.

The difference between “The Vast of Night” and referenced predecessors such as “The Twilight Zone” is a deliberate lack of parable or message. This isn’t an instructive science fiction fable about our own lives but rather an intimate study of character and place. A few visual nods to “Twin Peaks” are more illuminating: Even when you know what the story is about, that’s not what it’s about.

That can make the script, from fellow first-timers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, a bit aimless; a big chunk of the third act, concerning a visit to a secretive woman (Gail Cronauer), goes nowhere. But a certain slowness works brilliantly for Pattinson, a budding master of beautiful, languid staging. In shots that stretch for minutes at a time, the young director plants us firmly in this bygone world; we’re less flies on the wall and more elements in the air. It’s something to behold.

My Rating: 8/10

“The Vast of Night” is playing at drive-in cinemas beginning Friday.