The Vast of Night made its original premiere at Sundance more than a year and a half ago, but with Amazon purchasing the rights you can now stream it on Prime as part of the subscription. Before you do, read our The Vast of Night review below.
In The Vast Of Night what begins as a quasi-Twilight Zone television show called Paradox Theater quickly places us in 1950s Cayuga, New Mexico at a local high school basketball game. We meet Everett Sloan, a smooth-talking but sincere local radio disc jockey who also serves as something like the town crier and jack of all electrical trades. He makes his way through a number of different interactions indicating he’s got a pulse on much of the town and is in relative control of his surroundings.
Ultimately he dovetails his conversations with Fay Crocker, an inquisitive and slightly nervous teenager who has obvious interests in Everett’s radio life and his knowledge around recording equipment. We get an extended scene (almost a single unbroken shot) through town as they talk with other locals, stroll the streets toward their jobs (he at the radio station, her at the local telephone switchboard) and discuss futuristic technology (like cell phones and electric cars).
If it doesn’t seem like much is happening in The Vast of Night, well there really isn’t to start. If anything it’s a period-piece establishing shot that extends well beyond where most moviemakers (and possibly viewers) would feel comfortable. But it’s also important because these opening moments set a definitive tone for the movie.
The crux of The Vast of Night centers on Everett and Fay hearing mysterious noises coming over the telephone and radio frequencies while trying to determine their exact origin. It’s not clear what these sounds are, though we’re steadily pushed to believe they might not be of this planet. And in that way, The Vast of Night is a homage to the early days of alien encounters and the “scares” around the genre. It’s like if a 50’s B-movie figured out how to become an A-movie way off in the future.
Director Andrew Patterson, in his first feature film, uses the lack of technological advancement and overall pace of time period to his advantage. The Vast of Night is a slow film, taking its time with conversations and back-and-forths. There’s no real rush, with much of the movie playing out in Fay’s telephone switchboard office as she receives calls (some more informative than others) and transfers them to Everett. It’s a mystery but one where you’re keeping up with the beats as they develop in real-time. You only know what Everett and Fay know or learn.
If the characters need to get anywhere, well you can walk or run right along with them. Maybe we get a chance to move around in a car, but it’s not like every family has two or three of them laying around, at least not in the 1950s. From a “historical” perspective the The Vast of Night is accurate and intentional.
As a full story, The Vast of Night is slow but simmering. The ninety-minute run time is about the timing of the action within the film. It’s both dense and sparse. A period drama and thriller as much as anything else. There are moments of almost sinister pacing, drawing out conversations that lead you further into the mystery while you wait for something to jump out of the night almost to get it over with. There is almost beauty in this approach. We even get moments of shots filtered through the old tube televisions of the time, as a reminder that you might be watching a movie-within-a-movie instead of something very real.
The Vast of Night won’t be for everyone. It would be easy to check out after the first few minutes of long shots, seemingly never-ending banter, and a story that might never really materialize. But what works for the movie is that you also get a sense, though the night itself and the subtle use of music and sound, that something is there just beyond sight. That something is watching Fay and Everett, maybe even stalking them. You suspect that their search for the truth is nothing more than a simple cat and mouse game, or worse a trap they’re walking into. It gives the whole movie a subtle, low-throbbing dread.
It’s nice to realize that movies like The Vast of Night can still be made as they become rarer and rarer. Though this is a modern movie, it’s an homage to the past in both its theme and its style. And though not completely satisfying in its totality, it’s worth the watch as a trip back to yesteryear and the things that used to be so simple but also so terrifying.