The place: a dusty, out-of-the-way New Mexican Podunk. The time: a simpler, unspecified year during the 1950’s. On the night of a big basketball game, two teenagers working late shifts at their respective jobs intercept a strange signal of unknown origin. Fay (Sierra McCormick), a switchboard operator, and Everett (Jake Horowitz), the local radio DJ, set out to unravel the mystery behind the fringe frequency.
It’s a synopsis straight out of The Twilight Zone, or in this case a fictional homage by the name of Paradox Theater, in which the film we’re watching actually features as an episode titled The Vast of Night.
Director Andrew Patterson and cinematographer Miguel Ioann Littín-Menz successfully sustain a moody and unnerving atmosphere, the likes of which still to this day keep viewers on edge during the very best Twilight Zone episodes. The first 30 minutes especially suggest an exciting return to the cigarette smoke-filled days of Rod Serling, that is if you can make it through the relentless assault of blocky dialogue that opens the film. (I initially had to activate the close captioning just to stand a chance at keeping up with what was being said.)
Where The Vast of Night could have used a lot more work is in its central mystery. At its best, each episode of The Twilight Zone keeps you guessing up till the last moment, at which point it pulls the rug out from beneath you with a shocking twist that re-contextualizes everything you’d just seen. Here, Patterson and his writing team introduce a mystery with very little mystery about it. There was hardly a moment in Vast of Night wherein I found myself questioning what was going on. I was fairly certain early on as to the source of the signal and only became more certain as the film ticked on. Eventually, my hypothesis proved correct and thus most of the suspense fell flat.
Despite some poor story choices, there is enough in Vast of Night to suggest that Patterson could have an exciting career ahead of him. For one, the film definitely makes the most out of its microscopic budget. Never once did I question the legitimacy of the era we were in. From the sets to the props, makeup and costumes, Vast perpetually looks and feels like the 1950’s.
Similarly, both the cinematography and sound design are meticulously designed. The central signal at the heart of the story feels both nostalgic and entirely unique when put up against similar sounds from movies of this ilk. The film also pulls off more than a couple impressive one-takes, each lasting around nine minutes. Sometimes they help orient the viewer with the physical layout of the town. Other times they let the audience sink into a story that’s being relayed by an actor who’s deliciously delighting in a meaty monologue.
As interested as I am in seeing how Patterson will develop as a filmmaker, it’s tough for me to recommend The Vast of Night. While it’s a technically bold feat for a first-time filmmaker, it ultimately doesn’t deliver on the one thing it ought to: a solid mystery. I mean, would you pay for a sandwich from a sub shot that exclusively made underwhelming subs?
Those are my thoughts on The Vast of Night. Have you had a chance yet to check out this film on Amazon Prime? If so, what did you think? Did you enjoy it more than me? Hit me up in the comments below and let me know!