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Review: The Vast of Night (2020)

The Vast of Night (2020)

Directed by: Andrew Patterson

Premise: Set in the 1950s, a telephone switchboard operator (Sierra McCormick) and a radio DJ (Jake Horowitz) detect a strange audio frequency. They believe the frequency might be extraterrestrial and they search for its source.

What Works: The Vast of Night is a slickly produced film. The cinematography uses long takes with the camera following the characters as they navigate through various indoor and outdoor locations. The assembly is seamless and gives this movie a nervy energy. The Vast of Night is a science fiction picture but not in the way we are accustomed to seeing from Hollywood; the science fiction creeps into the picture in an unexpected way and it becomes a chase with its two young characters rushing around town trying to track down the source of the mysterious signal. It’s amazing how exciting this movie manages to be without actually showing us very much. The film is as engaging as it is because of the technical mastery but also because it feeds us just enough information. The filmmakers of The Vast of Night understand the value of restraint and how to gin up the viewer’s interest and keep it there. The film also benefits from its two lead performances. Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick play the two young people who pursue the signal and they are a likable pair, filled with wonder and intelligence. Just as critical to the film are two supporting performances. Bruce Davis voices a caller to the station and Gail Cronauer is a local who provides the backstory. Davis is heard but not seen and Cronauer only appears in once sequence, delivering an extended monologue about the possible source of the audio signal. The movie stops to listen to these characters and it’s a risky storytelling decision but Davis and Cronauer are utterly captivating.

What Doesn’t: The Vast of Night is not a Hollywood science fiction film. It’s not an action picture nor does it contain grandiose visuals. The thrill of this movie is the chase and the wonder as its characters consider the possibility of extraterrestrial life. The one underwhelming point of the film is its conclusion. Stories about first contact generally have a spiritual dimension; these films are about characters encountering proof of life beyond Earth which forces an expansion of consciousness. The end of The Vast of Night doesn’t quite deliver that, instead remaining ambiguous. That restraint suits the scope of this film but the conclusion defies what audiences frequently look for in a movie like this.

DVD extras: Currently available on Amazon.

Bottom Line: The Vast of Night doesn’t fit into a familiar genre niche but that’s exactly what distinguishes the movie. This is a fresh and exciting piece of cinema that is masterfully crafted.

Episode: #834 (January 10, 2021)