THE VAST OF NIGHT – Review by Diane Carson

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The Vast of Night finds inspiration in early television science fiction.

With an abiding love for original, black-and-white Twilight Zone programs and affection for The X-Files, I approached director Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night with trepidation. What a delight then to be swept up in 1950s small town New Mexico as switchboard operator Fay hears an indecipherable audio frequency and transmits it to friend Everett, hosting a radio call in.

The opening, in quite daring fashion, invites direct comparison to the Twilight Zone with this introduction to Paradox Theater on 1950s television. Cleverly, the film returns several times to remind us that what appears on TV as a program is this film. It works because of the rapid unfolding. For example, in one spectacular scene the camera races along the ground down a main street, across yards and a field, down an alleyway, through cars to the Cayuga High School gymnasium where the game of the season is being played. The sound follows the locations flying by with a pounding beat surrendering to the roar of the crowd and the squeaking of tennis shoes. This is bravura filmmaking.

The story revolves around solving the mystery of the mysterious sound, a “slipstream caught between channels,” as the introductory Rod Serling type voice describes it. Honestly, there isn’t much to the plot, but lingering on closeups of Fay and Everett, their jabbering and rambling on almost nonstop, becomes immediately engaging. They’re caught in the midst of something important, determined to figure it out. The investigation involves a mysterious man who calls Fay, a nod to military involvement and racism, and a shut-in. As the two race around Cayuga, their rapid-fire dialogue adds momentum and the nighttime adds to the unnerving atmosphere, as do several cuts to a completely black screen. The camera also follows them from behind, encouraging viewers to lean forward, listen more closely, and try to discern the details.

This all works because Sierra McCormick as Fay and Jake Horowitz as Everett, both teenagers, hold the screen with a casual, unselfconscious chemistry. This satisfying little film zips through its 89 minutes with confidence and style. The Vast of Night streams exclusively beginning May 29 on Amazon Prime.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.