--==MovieHabit.com==--

The Vast of Night

***

by Matt Anderson

published May 29, 2020

The Vast of Night is a filmmaking treat from a trio of new talent.

Bacon-Bacon-9-40

This is a clever movie that creates its own world and blurs the lines of reality and fiction by framing the story as an episode of Paradox Theater, a TV show very much like The Twilight Zone, right down to an emcee who channels the aural clip of Rod Serling.

It’s the late 1950s in Cayuga, New Mexico. It’s a small, dusty town, a friendly community. But one fateful evening, a radio show host and town centerpiece, Everett (Jake Horowitz, Adam Bloom), and a sweet 16 journalism hopeful and switchboard operator, Fay (Sierra McCormick, VFW), stumble on something eerie. There’s an unusual sound creating a shroud of conspiracy. When Everett puts it out to his listeners to help identify the source, he and Fay are thrown into a mystery bigger than anything to ever hit Cayuga.

It’s a simple story, at least on the surface. What sets it apart and makes it special is how that simple story is told. The details of 1950s life — the clothing, the cars, the color palette, the eyeglasses, the social conventions, the manner of speaking — are immaculately staged. But it only gets better as the movie sucks in the viewer, taking plenty of time to set the scene and introduce the characters. Then the magic starts.

WOTW

The 1950s were when the world still held a sense of mystery. Roswell. Area 51. UFOs.

Stories foretelling radio-controlled cars fill Fay’s head: by 1974, there’ll be self-driving cars with voice navigation systems. And they’ll be running on electric roads by 1990. So much excitement about what the future holds.

It’s a playful experience created by Andrew Patterson, making his feature directorial debut, and first-time screenwriters James Montague and Craig W. Sanger. The Vast of Night has a refreshing vibe of creativity, like a student film that broke free and made it into the public domain.

Movies are all about using images — light and shadow — and sound to create a world. Here, Patterson fades to black a couple times — with extended periods of the screen going dark to further heighten what becomes the dominant sense: hearing. There’s the juicy, hushed dialogue of a conspiracy brewing over the radio waves as focus is given entirely to what the characters are saying. Then the picture resumes.

Then there are times when the sense of sight dominates. There are a couple jaw-dropping, extended single-take scenes. In one, the camera moves through the floor of a high school gym, a basketball game in progress, through a window and across the quiet Cayuga streets to WOTW, where Everett enters the station and takes an important phone call. Those with helpful leads on the sound’s source are promised a piece of Elvis’ carpet. But one particular caller has something more pressing on his mind than receiving a bogus square of carpet that has no connection whatsoever to the King.

CE3K

It’s pretty remarkable the two likeable leads, even though they’re in their early 20s, hold more screen credits than the director and the screenwriters. But this is the kind of debut that starts impressive careers, so it’s with eager anticipation the names Patterson, Montague and Sanger enter the movie landscape. In this case, so much of The Vast of Night reflects the same mindset and creative storytelling energy of Steven Spielberg and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Given how the global shelter-in-place lifestyle as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the moviegoing experience, it’s interesting to observe the fate of brand-new releases in the world of streaming. With theaters shut down, making a debut on a streaming service is an opportunity for smaller movies to be seen, the kind of movies that deserve an audience but might struggle in the pricey world of a theatrical run (The Vast of Night is an Amazon Studios release after spending 2019 running the film festival circuit).

On the other hand, for other movies, like The High Note, which was originally slated for a theatrical opening on May 8, it’s an opportunity to cut the losses and bury a movie without a prayer of finding an audience, no matter its budget might be some exponential factor over a spritely — and far more creative — experience like The Vast of Night.