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