arthouse

[Movie Review] The Vast of Night (2019) ★★★★★

Everett and Fay at the radio station in The Vast of Night 2019

The Vast of Night is an experimental film of charming beauty and a fresh narrative.


The Vast of Night is a science fiction adventure drama with a mesmerizing effect. With strong focus on the two main characters, beautiful cinematography, experimental narrative and storytelling and framed as a Twilight Zone-esque episode this debut is of amazing quality. 

The structure is creative as is the storytelling and the camera shots are highly original, turning a simple premise of an all too familiar story into something new and fresh. The Vast of Night reels you in with mesmerizing powers, an exciting atmosphere and playful acting resulting in a nostalgic watch that will take you back to the fifties. 


Plot

One night in the fifties in Cayuga New Mexico everybody is at the high school basketball game. Except for 16 year old Fay who has a shift as a switchboard operator and her friend Everett who works as a radio DJ at the local radio WOTW.

That night Fay hears a strange staticky electrical humming sound on the radio and a few seconds later she gets a call from a panicking woman who rushes for the basement after seeing something in the sky. At the background Fay hears that same humming sound.

She calls Everett who calls on his listeners to contact the radio if they know more about this weird sound. Soon Billy, a man who worked for the military calls and tells him his story upon which Fay and Everett set out into the night to learn more.


Why you should watch it

The Vast of Night starts out with a voice-over much like Rod Sterling who takes the viewers with him while entering the Paradox Theatre. Shown on a small square tv with a wooden frame, this film is literally and figuratively framed as a Twilight Zone episode.

From a blue and white screen we are transported into the picture and end up in Cayuga where we meet Everett in a very chaotic and lively high school gym where everybody is preparing for the big game tonight. It’s crowded, chaotic, everybody is talking, everybody tells him the same old stories and it looks like you’re watching an actual film from the fifties, with that seem vibe and atmosphere. It’s a great beginning to a story that slowly develops into something completely different. 

On his way we get to meet 16 year old Fay who has a side job as a switchboard operator. They talk about futuristic new inventions about self-driving cars and little telephones you can carry with you and on which you can see the person you talk to. Till both go to their separate jobs. 

The cinematography and editing are very creative and original and a big part of the narrative. It’s an absolute joy and delight to watch. Every time a new scene is presented we switch from the normal screen image to the old fashioned screen image on the small tv and back again. This is a great fresh original idea that truly brings alive that fifties vibe, but at the same time feels completely new. 

When Billy calls Everett to tell him his story, only his voice can be heard when the screen turns almost completely dark, making it a truly terrifying story, but also focuses on that story alone, without any distractions. 

Billy’s story and later on Mabel Blanche’s story are important parts of the narrative. Because their stories shape the film, form the thoughts inside Fay’s and Everett’s head without even have seen what other people are talking about on the phone. They report other’s testimonies about what might be happening.

This narrative is the strength of the film, which is shown through the switchboard scene, where we only see Fay taking calls, connecting them, and first noticing the strange sound. This scene is very intimate, somewhat chaotic, but also playful and mysterious. Both the narrative, using others to tell the story, which Fay and Everett then play out themselves and the structure, together with the choice of cinematography, and the camera angles and shots, turn this simple story into something new and fresh.

The low camera floating just inches above the ground through the desolated streets, finding Fay and Everett is cause for a mysterious vibe. The playful strong and snappy editing creates a delightful nostalgic vibe but feels modern and fresh at the same time. 

Strong assets to this story are all the actors. Fay and Everett are strong characters who are very likable and are depicted with just small things in action and dialogue through which you immediately know what kind of people they are. They fit in perfectly in the fifties, their open-mindedness and naivety and inquisitive spirits who long for something more than a small town life, push the story forward. 

But the other characters, two strangers who were following the something in the sky, Gerald and Bertsie are immediately thrown into the narrative and become part of the investigation of Fay and Everett. That simple action gives the film a very nostalgic feel, in a time where prejudice and racism, sexism, fear for the Soviets is the norm, but also the feel of community, the simple life as a sharp contrast. Both are addressed, moderating the nostalgic feel to a more realistic level without being moralistic. 

The overall theme, signals, communications, radio waves, sending messages are woven into the story, the narrative and serve as the overarching framework of the film. From telephones lines, to radio waves and the staticky electrical humming from possible aliens, they are all connected and connecting, keeping the story arc very introvert and personal. By using means of communication to tell a story, this even could be a meta-perspective of storylling itself.

The Vast of Night is a gripping, charming, exciting journey that plays out in just one night, and takes the viewer with them on a journey into the unknown. It’s a fantastical inventive tale that balances that fine line between arthouse and entertainment. 


My favorite part

I really loved Fay. She is a great character, passionate, inquisitive, strong, smart and caring. She is the actual lead in the story, taking action, till Everett takes over the decision making, which is a smart depiction of the fifties as well. But they both are quite similar to each other, when Fay “takes” a bike in her hurry although she’s used to run everywhere, Everett has “borrowed” a car, which becomes a fun gimmick. 

Both stories of Billy and Mabel are excellently told. It’s an enthralling auditive story that makes things interesting, but it’s so well told that it feels like an audio book where you can see the images they describe taking shape in your imagination. It’s the power of stories that come to life, backing up that what is really happening around them in the sky. 


Ratings

Rating: ★★★★★

Nostalgic factor: ★★★★★

Originality factor: ★★★★★

Entertainment factor: ★★★★★


Cast and crew

The Vast of Night is directed by Andrew Patterson and written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger. It stars Sierra McCormick (Fay Crocker), Jake Horowitz (Everett Sloan), Gail Cronauer (Mabel Blanche), Bruce Davis (Billy), Cheyenne Barton (Bertsie) and Mark Banik (Gerald).

Duration: 89 minutes. Music: Erick Alexander, Jared Bulmer. Cinematography: M.I. Littin-Menz. Production company: GED Cinema. Distributed by: Amazon Studios. 


Check the trailer below