The Vast of Night is an Amazon Prime original film, written and directed by first and only time director Andrew Patterson. The film, a sci-fi mystery thriller, is in many ways an homage to The Twilight Zone. It takes place in the late 1950’s, and centers around a switchboard operator in the small town of Cayuga, New Mexico, and her local radio host friend, as they discover an audio frequency which leads them down a dark and suspenseful path. The runs for an hour and a half, and stars Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz as Fay and Everett, the two protagonists.
Whoa. This was one frickin hell of a movie. Almost everything about it was absolutely spectacular, crafted to the tee with expertise and the kind of spooky, mysterious flair that makes it a perfect tribute to its source material (I say, not having seen any of The Twilight Zone).
The first fifteen minutes of this film are extraordinary. Sorkin himself couldn’t have written the hook of this film better, with quick, funny, stichomythic dialogue that, if you already know the film’s a sci-fi, would have you wondering if you clicked on the wrong film on Prime. We’ll be getting into how this film revolutionizes what a sci-fi film can be in a minute, but the first fifteen minutes are so brimming with flair and charisma, so incredibly engaging and pulsating, that you’re sold on this film before there’s even a real semblance of a plot. The credit goes to a combination of absolutely scintillating writing, a tone, visual and otherwise, that makes the situation convincing (that of a small town, everyone-knows-everyone atmosphere), extremely good characters, and the performances to match them. You fall for Everett and Fay and their whimsy and fast-talking charm straight away, and a large portion of credit goes to Horowitz and McCormick, who give them such life and vibrance in their portrayals. They’re brilliant the whole way through, but the job they do in those first fifteen deserves singling out for their contribution to a sequence that hooked its audience, sold its characters, and flowed smoother than…something that flows really smoothly, in a shockingly short amount of time.
Then the plot starts to get underway, and the film turns into something different. The Vast of Night is an unbelievably unique addition to the body of work that’s classed under the genres of “Sci-Fi” or “Thriller”. It’s a ponderous thriller, keeping away from visual excitement and choosing to tell a really suspenseful story through a really compelling lens: this small town community, where the fate of anyone affects the fate of everyone, and where strangeness has the tendency to be explained away. Everett and Fay are an intensely compelling face for that perspective, which comes through really well and makes that aspect, the narrative perspective, really unique in this genre. It was, perhaps, that perspective that drives the film’s focus on simplicity. Patterson and Co.’ve done an amazing job working with the tension and intrigue of the plot, but, unlike most films of this kind, they keep it pretty strictly simple. There aren’t a lot of questions Everett and Fay are presented with, nothing especially complex or confusing. There’s a focus there, “what is that?” is the only real conflict of the film, and the intrigue and mystery remains just as intense, possibly more, as a result of that. What isn’t simple is ambiguous, which escalates the same effect even further. There’s an extent to which, as a modern audience member, there actually isn’t much to be surprised by from the plot of this film. There are only two real explanations to what 1) the noise is and 2) what the hell is in the sky, so what’s really there to be so confused about? The answer to that isn’t to do with the content of what you see, which is simple. This film is an example of how, when simplicity is executed to near perfection, it can be just as if not more compelling than something complex and dense. In that sense, it is something of an antithesis to this genre, to which this film deserves to be a game-changer.
And it is only because of that near-perfect execution that this film works. Check Andrew Patterson’s IMDb page, and this film is the only thing you’ll find. The fact that a first time director could pull something like this off is baffling. It’s so visually striking, capturing the juxtaposition of a cozy, familiar town on a spooky and mysterious night, making you feel both and be aware of both at the same freaky time. The editing choices are marvelous. Long, nearly ten minute shots work so well when they’re used in the right places, just as quick, almost intense cuts make the penultimate scene with the old woman so. Damn. Good (really, such a well put-together scene. It was breathtaking). Added to that is an extremely expertly done score. It’s just fantastic, picking up on the tone of the scene perfectly and giving it creepy or Christmas-y vibes exactly when that’s what’s necessary. I personally found the to-and-fro with the retro television setup was a little gimmicky, but that was what helped to nail down the Twilight Zone effect, and it didn’t mar anything, so I don’t think I’d complain about it.
And, when it’s all over, there’s an interesting idea they choose to leave you with, those that are put in your head by the old lady, and kept there by the mysterious effect of those foreign words on people who, it would at least seem, have already seen what there is to be seen. As such, the mysteriousness persists, because the old lady’s ideas bring up questions that we didn’t have before, and the ambiguity that Everett and Fay leave behind stays with you well after the credits have rolled.
All in all, I was more than sufficiently blown away by this film. It comes back down to that idea of simplicity, weaponized by perfect execution to make for one of the most compelling, intriguing, and mysterious sci-fi films I’ve ever seen, and a remarkable film all around. I can only hope that Andrew Patterson does not choose to hang up his Final Draft account, because I’ll be first in line for whatever this guy does next. In the meantime, I could not recommend The Vast of Night highly enough. An absolute game-changer in the world of science fiction filmmaking.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – 87/100 Aryamaan’s Score –