Genre done with the kind of intelligence and artfulness we come to expect from The Twilight Zone. Yes, The Vast of Night is that good.
Few films can fill you with the awe, wonder, and tension that The Vast of Night will. Directed by Andrew Patterson from a deft-knowing script by James Montague and Craig S. Sanger, this film is sure to be the surprise genre film of 2020.
Taking place over one night in the late 1950s in Cayuga, New Mexico, a young switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) experience a strange signal through their respective inbound receivers. Together they begin to investigate this sound leading them to something all-together larger than they could ever imagine.
One could look at what this group of filmmakers have craftily put together as an ode to Rod Sterling, Terrence Malick, and Steven Spielberg. The Vast of Night so much more than that. The trifecta of Patterson, Montague, and Sanger have made a film that is wholly original speaking in a voice that is authentically their own. The film visually grabs you with its long tracking shots roaming in and out of a Gym into the dark barely lit night of New Mexico. The shots though are always in service of the story giving us geography and a sense of place.
The first twenty minutes of the film are just that, beautifully constructed to not only give us a sense of place but a sense of character. The script written by Montague and Sanger is genre in the most elevated sense. The opening is not some sort of ominous sci-fi tale but a witty small-town personal drama.
We spent that time with teenagers Everett and Fay as they discuss the in’s and out’s of a tape recorder, interviewing people, radio, futurist theories, and everything in between. In these moments’ actors McCormick and Horowitz shine. There is palpable chemistry between the two. Their rat-a-tat-tat delivery of the stylized Southwestern dialect recalls the very best of Screw Ball Comedies duos of the 1930s.
This is a drama you would gladly watch unfold as sort of a low-key night-in-the-life-of tale. It is not to be as the storytellers have more instore for their willing audience. The mystery that unfolds is so perfectly told, to ruin the next two-thirds of the movie would be to rob it, and its audience, of its power.
Much like its processor The Twilight Zone, it is not in answering the questions as much as it is in the questions themselves that the film draws its power. The Vast of Night will grip you until it’s final frames and long after.