the vast of night review

Sci-Fi Movie Review: The Vast of Night [2020]

A rarity among good science fiction films, The Vast of Night represents a niche indie film that pushes the parameters of budget to its limits, asking the most out of its cast and receiving an engaging, if overtly punchy, study of small-town Americana and the impact of the unknown.

The first release for writer-director Andrew Patterson, The Vast of Night represents a marvel of creativity in its charismatic and engaging dialogue that draws the viewer in and forces them to bounce between the personalities on screen.

Previewed at Slamdance Film Festival in January of 2019, The Vast of Night was picked up by Amazon Studios in September of that year. It was released to Amazon’s streaming service and select drive-in theaters around the country in May of 2020.

Created on a minuscule budget of only $700,000, the entire film was financed by Patterson using earnings from various small projects he previously produced. It was a labor of love that paid off. Shooting took place over the course of several weeks with some outlets reporting that the total length of shooting was 17 days.

The Premise of The Vast of Night

The film stars Sierra McCormick, an Asheville, NC native known for her portrayal of Lilith on The CW’s Supernatural, and Jake Horowitz, an up-and-coming star from Brooklynn, NY. Neither actor has a substantial portfolio of work but both shine in their respective roles as Fay, a nerdy switchboard operator with a predisposition to the future of science, and Everett, a charming and cheeky radio host in the fictional small town of Cayuga, NM.

Together, Fay and Everett work to uncover the source of a strange interference that seems to affect the radio signals and telephone lines of the town. Throughout the movie, Everett and Fay interview and question town residents, who paint a strange and disjointed picture of a region haunted by extraterrestrial visitations and government involvement.

The cinematography, brought to the screen by Chilean cinematographer M. I. Littin-Menz, not only captures the ambiance of uncertainty and unease with precision but manages to incorporate the coveted and difficult long shot, taking the audience on a ride through town as the bizarre events unfold at a pre-internet speed. Beyond this, Littin-Menz’s genius is what drives scenes that would otherwise be flat and unengaging, such as the interview with the first caller. This particular scene focuses only on Horowitz as Everett listens in the darkness with disbelief. Horowitz brings this alive, serving as the perfect radio host in allowing the audience to hear and feel every beat of the interview vividly.

While the narrative seems to sulk along at points, Horowitz is an incredibly engaging lead. He is a radio host that every viewer has heard at least once, capable of evoking all of the wonders that came with Coast To Coast AM without feeding into what he seems to perceive as over-animated interviewees. The character portrayal is phenomenal and is one of the most rewarding parts of watching this film.

McCormick, too, plays her role well. Young Fay is animated, excited, and infatuated. What role she is meant to fulfill in this story, however, is difficult to pin down. Beyond providing the catalyst for Everett’s investigation, her purpose can be isolated to simply being a switchboard operator. It’s a bit of a disappointment but the time period and the character’s naivety have to be accounted for in approaching her character. In that regard, Patterson achieved a well-defined sixteen-year-old band geek from the late 1950s.

A Few of the Films Shortcomings

Another disappointment is the film’s failure to more thoroughly call the social and racial context of the period into focus. While the first caller reveals himself as a black man, the detail seems almost like a second thought, save for the implication of the United States’ government’s mission. While there was ample opportunity to explore this topic more, this particular social issue is mentioned in passing and left alone for the duration of the film. There are other pointed references to social and political issues relevant in the current time, such as student loans and female sexuality, but each of these is picked up and then dropped almost instantaneously without providing the viewer with any actual understanding of how these issues fit into the narrative.

Final Thoughts on The Vast of Night

What stands out the most in this film is the darkness of it, which Littin-Menz utilizes with incredible competency. Every scene is beautiful to look at and the cinematography works well in engaging the audience in the narrative, involving them in what feels like a minute-by-minute take of the events as they occur. It is fast when it needs to be and equally as slow when the script calls for it. The execution is perfect.

The Vast of Night is a film worth seeing, if only for the novelty of a science fiction thriller set in the late 1950s and the Space Race. For the film enthusiast, the opportunity to see Littin-Menz at work before he inevitably takes the American stage by storm is an absolute treat. Horowitz, too, is a star to watch: recently signed to Hyperion, Horowitz has a promising future in film.

Critics have absolutely raved about this movie and the rarity of a first film from a “new” director showcasing such mastery of writing, production, and directing. The ambiguity of the ending leaves it open to interpretation, too, leaving the viewer to question what exactly they witnessed.

The Vast of Night is everything that an indie film should be: smart, well-shot, and full of brilliant talent that maximizes the script to its fullest potential. Coupled with its sci-fi premise, this is a movie that should endure as a favorite among fans of the genre who are exhausted by over-the-top productions and bland writing. The Vast of Night is a new take on an old idea: what happens when aliens visit a New Mexican town in the 50s?

Need more sci-fi to watch? Check out our list of the best sci-fi movies of 2020.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: