Ben’s Breakdown | Look To The Skies in “The Vast of Night”

It’s the 1950s in the tiniest of towns in New Mexico. It seems like a normal night until a nighttime switchboard operator hears a mysterious signal over the radio. She reaches out to the DJ for him to hear and what begins is a search for answers regarding the signal, the military, and possibly even abductions.

Science fiction movies will always be my bread and butter. However, when I saw the trailer for The Vast of Night I was immediately intrigued by the period that this story was to take place in. I have also been a fan of extra-terrestrials visiting the Earth (one of my favorite sci-fi movies ever is Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and the fact that this movie has a strong mystery element to it made it seem like a slamdunk film for me to see. I was not disappointed. The film is framed in a Twilight Zone-like TV episode of a fictitious series titled Paradox Theater with its own Rod Serling sound-alike narrator. The majority of the story is focused on the two characters Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz), the town DJ and hot-shot personality, and the nighttime switchboard operator Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick). The film primarily focuses on them in small settings that not only gives each of the scenes a certain minimalism and intimacy about them, it also allows the viewer to serve as a “fly on the wall” during their conversations. This film also makes use of an interesting technique in that it frequently fades to black while the audio is still going. This makes the story very reminiscent of old-time radio theater. Even as the story advances it moves much like episodes of the radio theater sci-fi shows I used to listen to. (Now, I’m not THAT old, but there was a local AM station in the town that I grew up in that played sci-fi old-time radio every Sunday night, and watching The Vast of Night reminded me of those episodes.) Even the unusual ending was a callback to how those episodes ended.

Another wonderful element in this film is the cinematography. M.I. Littin-Menz created art with how some of these shots were put together, including an amazing single-shot sequence that took the viewer from the operator station through the town, to the local high school, to finally arrive at the radio station where Everett worked out. It was a moment that not only was dazzling to look at, but also managed to heighten the suspense of what was to come. The texture of the film was strikingly beautiful with the perfect tones to help transport the viewer back in time. It almost felt as if I was looking at something painted by Norman Rockwell.

Under the direction of Andrew Patterson (in his directorial debut), he manages to keep the viewer fully engaged once the mysterious radio signal is detected. By focusing primarily on our two main characters throughout the film he creates a sense of anxiety as the story progresses. There is little to distract us from their actions and reactions to the situation that is unfolding. This then leads to the amazing performances by our two lead actors. Both Horowitz and McCormick are perfectly balanced against each other. There isn’t much more that I can say about them except that I thought they were exceptional. Also, because this film is comprised of many long sequences without any edits or cutaways, more than once both of these actors have long scenes with plenty of dialogue and by not allowing for any edits or cuts to take place it creates a sense of realism to what is happening to them. The fact that each of them was able to deliver all of those lines without a single cut is quite a testament as to how good they are, as well as how it helped to sell those scenes.

If there is any bad element to this film it is in how it opens. It starts at a high school gymnasium as the local basketball team is preparing to go against another school team, and the entire scene is both chaotic and unnecessary. Dialogue with people who mistake the DJ as someone else bear no fruit and even a lengthy bit where Everett is trying to teach Fay how to do interviews with a portal tape-recorder is pretty much meaningless. People talk over each other creating a veritable wall-of-noise with the dialogue at this point. It is more than distracting and since that sequence lasts upwards of 15 minutes it could turn movie viewers off to the point where they are lost and cannot be recovered for the heart of the film. Other than that, The Vast of Night is a magnificent looking science fiction thriller with some very tight acting and unbelievable cinematography. If you’re a fan of sci-fi old-time radio, then this is a film you’ll be wanting to see. Lastly, I have said for some time that I can find better films from the independent market than from big studios. After seeing this film I stand firmly by that statement because this low-budget indie film proves that you don’t need a big budget and production to make a hit and that a strong story with equally strong actors and smart cinematography will always win.

For its weak and chaotic opening, followed by a wonderfully tense story, I give The Vast of Night 4 out of 5 UFOs.

The Vast of Night is available on Amazon Prime.

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