‘The Vast of Night’ Movie Review: “Excels In Unsettling Retro Tone”
Coming off the heels of a Fantastic Fest 2019 premiere, director Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night is now streaming on Amazon Prime. The film excels in its captivating and unsettling retro tone, with ominous blue-tinted visuals and long-takes. Story-wise, the narrative feels a bit thin with a concept that doesn’t quite reach peak interest until too late in the runtime. The performances are great, along with a beautifully haunting score by Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer.
Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz star in this small-scale tale about a mysterious radio frequency that descends upon a town in 1950’s New Mexico. The duo attempt to dig deep into the mysterious origins of the sound through mysterious phone confessions and eye-witness reports from local townspeople.
Jack Horowitz is charismatic as the confident and sporadic radio host Everett Sloan. His dialogue delivery is spunky and fuels the character. His interactions with the other mysterious resident of the town are tense, and serious. Horowitz is able to switch between his performative radio personality to a much more assertive interrogative type at ease.
Fay Crocker is wonderfully portrayed by Sierra McCormick. The 22 year old actor miraculously transforms into a quirky teenage girl. Her love of technology and optimism for the future is heartwarming. Crocker’s personality compliments Everett’s comedically, providing for many entertaining conversations.
The true achievement of The Vast of Night is its stylistic and atmospheric visual approach. The filmmakers were clearly inspired by the iconic Twilight Zone series, as the film literally begins with a slow dolly-in on a TV playing a science fiction style show intro. The film randomly fades from its slick HD cinematography to a restricted view through a grainy television set. It’s an interesting visual choice that certainly reminds viewers about what kind of story they are watching. Grain and cool-blue tones fill almost every shot, emphasizing the classic style of movies shot on film.
Additionally, a plethora of long continuous takes make up most of the cinematography in the film. The camera slowly follows as characters walk from location to location, swiftly navigating the environment. One sequence even has the camera Evil-Deading its way from one location to another across town. It’s a super unnerving technique, and definitely upholds the ominous tone of the feature. The camera often feels like an observer, keeping an extended distance from its actors even during close ups. This angling consistently alludes to the feeling of these characters being watched, whether that’s by the audience or something else…
Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer’s is a tremendous compliment to the visuals of the film. Its restricted, yet purposeful, usage of strings and piano chords accentuates the ominously beautiful aspect of the film. Its usage during the final sequence is especially cathartic and haunting.
While the overall aesthetic of The Vast of Night is superb, it cannot save the uninteresting narrative. The film would rather reminisce in its atmosphere, rather than jumping into an intriguing story. Once the plot threads start appearing, they are hardly interesting or unique enough to warrant much engagement from the audience. A mysterious phone call confessional reveals that the spooky noise the characters are hearing has a legacy in their town. The caller then continues to “explain” his history with the sound which results in just him repeatedly emphasizing how strange the sound is.
The narrative finally picks up pace, with about 20 minutes left in the film, when the characters visit someone who claims to have knowledge about the strange noise. What follows is an extremely unsettling storytelling sequence where the camera lingers on an elderly woman as she recounts a supernatural experience. Here the plot tries to differentiate itself from previous science fiction UFO movies. It ultimately fails, simply because of the lack of time remaining in the film. The ensuing final sequence that follows is wonderfully cathartic, unsettling, and hauntingly beautiful. Unfortunately, the strong ending is not enough to ease the lack of intrigue throughout the middle of the film.
The Vast of Night is a beautifully directed and visualized retro science fiction tribute. Unfortunately its thin story drags down what could’ve been an incredible entry into the genre. – Noah Levine
Grade – 6.5/10
The Vast of Night is now streaming on Amazon Prime.