It’s always exciting to see a new director come onto the scene, with such clear filmmaking vision and an ability to make the most out of the minimal budget they are forced to work with. As is the case with Andrew Patterson‘s minimalist debut The Vast of Night. The story may feel like a Twilight Zone episode stretched to feature length. But Patterson finds creative ways to tell that story, making for a visually inventive and assured debut for the director.
It’s the 1950s, in a small town in New Mexico. The local high school’s basketball game brings in most of the town’s occupants for the night. Meanwhile, young Fay (Sierra McCormick) tends to the switchboard as calls come in and out throughout the evening. During her operating, a mysterious frequency appears. Without a clue as to its origin, Fay calls upon her radio DJ friend, Everett (Jake Horowitz) for help.
Together, the two of them search for answers. And in their search, they uncover secrets and hear stories that only propel them further into the mystery. Everything will change for Fay and Everett on this night.
Right from the get-go, Patterson invites comparisons to The Twilight Zone with the film’s framing device. The film’s events are frequently seen through the black-and-white filter of a ’50s television set, with the film’s title playing doubly for the film we are watching and the film we see on the television. It’s one of the many ways Patterson shows his love for storytelling and old-school sci-fi.
And yet, he also uses very modern stylistic techniques that make the old feel new again. A lengthy, speedy tracking shot through the streets of the small town is both breathtaking and eerily sets the mood. But he also isn’t afraid to keep the camera still for minutes and let the performances and monologues set the vibe. But he also has a couple long stretches of nothing but black screen, where there’s only audio. And while this does make you focus on the dialogue, it simultaneously reveals just how drawn out the story is.
The script by Patterson, James Montague, and Craig W. Sanger is verbose, with the pitter-patter banter of Fay and Everett offset by lengthy monologues from people telling stories related to the strange radio frequency.
Mood and atmosphere are definitely at the forefront of their goals here, which unfortunately leaves little room for character or plot. Fay gets a couple fleeting moments of development, but it’s really all about the chase for what’s out there.
One can’t help but think that if this was a 45-minute or one hour television special, the story wouldn’t feel so thinly stretched. But this doesn’t take away from all the impressive stuff on display. Shout-outs must also go McCormick and Horowitz for their performances, which capture the spirit of the storytelling. And Colton Turner’s evocative score does the same.
However light on plot and character it may be, The Vast of Night understands the excitement and the adventure of searching for the unknown. And there’s a genuine love for storytelling evident in how Patterson directs. Watch this one at night with the lights off, and let an exciting new talent tell you a story.
The Vast of Night is rated PG-13, and it is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.
All images courtesy of Amazon Studios.