“The Vast of Night” is the directorial debut of Andrew Patterson, and it enjoyed its Texas Premiere at Fantastic Fest 2019 on Friday, September 20, 2019. Fantastic Fest is in its 15th year as the largest genre film festival in the U.S. and innovative science fiction like “The Vast of Night” is just the tip of the iceberg of what the fest has to offer. The film stars Sierra McCormick as Fay Crocker and Jake Horowitz as Everett.
In “The Vast of Night,” the sun goes down and strange happenings begin to arise. Set in 1950s New Mexico, in the tiny town of Cayuga, a rural radio DJ and a telephone operator discover a strange signal coming across the phone lines and radio waves. The signals are followed by frantic phone calls claiming that there is something in the sky. It’s up to them to follow the signal and the loose threads of those who know more than they let on and find the source of the bizarre sound.
“The Vast of Night” works superbly both as a period piece and a finessed, perfectly crafted work of science fiction. The film is an absolutely perfect time capsule of the 1950s. From the costuming to the locations to the very precise ways the lines were written and performed. “The Vast of Night” does for the 1950s what “Stranger Things” has done for the 1980s.
Packaging the entire film as if it were an episode of “The Twilight Zone” was an innovative choice that very firmly plants the viewer in the time period and in that delicious feeling evoked by a Halloween haunted house. You’re there for fun, but you’re also ready to be scared.
Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of “The Vast of Night” is how firmly it is grounded in realism. We can recognize the fantastical elements at play, but the way the film’s characters interact, the way problems are approached and comprehended, and even the larger societal factors, like race and gender stigmas, that keep the truth from coming out — all of these elements lend themselves to a really grounded story. A symptom of that grounded feeling is that it creates this delicious tension that is utterly arresting. The viewer is on the edge of their seat and holding their breath because they know something is coming… they’re just not sure what.
“The Vast of Night” is good, right down to its bones. The structural elements of the film are straight-up masterful, and it’s damn impressive for a directorial debut. Of course, given its setting and connections with radio waves, “The Vast of Night” boasts a really fantastic soundtrack.
Beyond the sounds, the visuals are stellar. In one particular scene, Patterson runs a tracking shot that lasts several minutes, darting in and out of buildings all over town. To put it plainly: stunning. All of his shots are beautifully composed and the spot-on performances only lend themselves to a great overall product.
To sum it all up, “The Vast of Night” is damn good. So good that its fatal flaw is not giving the audience more. This will come down to an issue of preference and this critic is capable of understanding the desire to shroud the film in mystery… but there needed to be more. Specifically, a little more information on what was really going on. The looseness created by not fully defining the threat kind of harmed the integrity of the film’s overall structure.
That being said, “The Vast of Night” still can’t be missed! Catch it at Fantastic Fest 2019 or eagerly await its expected 2020 release on Amazon Prime.
“The Vast of Night” will show again at Fantastic Fest on Tuesday, September 24, at 5 p.m.
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Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. Bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.