A confident debut that blends its many inspirations in a lo-fi package with an abundance of B-movie charm.
This review of The Vast of Night (Amazon Prime) is spoiler-free.
Almost everything about The Vast of Night, which is now available to stream on Amazon Prime, is designed as a treat for those who’re into sci-fi B-movies. It’s set in small-town New Mexico, in the 50s, a time and place so ripe for alien conspiracy that it’d be a travesty if any film set there and then didn’t include one. But it’s also a charmingly confident feature debut that evokes the lo-fi charms of period radio dramas and twisty genre shows like The Twilight Zone and The X-Files. Director Andrew Patterson has crafted a nostalgic B-movie just to show off how easily he can do it.
A director showing off can be grating, obviously, but what Patterson is doing here feels playful, all the subversions for the benefit of the audience rather than himself. That, and the fact he seems to be genuinely interested in his characters, chain-smoking radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) and switchboard operator Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick), who have an easy, snappy rapport, helps to carry The Vast of Night along genre lines that frequently make unscheduled stops at gloomy stations of genuine surprise.
As garbled transmission signals and phone-ins start to suggest a conspiracy, Patterson’s film becomes increasingly drenched in paranoia. Writers Craig W. Sanger and James Montague, who probably won’t receive due credit thanks to the strength of the central performances and Patterson’s assured craftsmanship, deliver a screenplay without any cloying attempts at irony and self-awareness. The material is familiar, arguably played-out, but The Vast of Night has a genuine appreciation for it, and the considerable chemistry between the leads is only brought into starker relief by their clever overlapping patter.
Here’s a film, then, that works on just about every level, and that wisely steers clear of any territory or tones that wouldn’t suit it. Some might find its late-game reveals unsatisfactory, or its film-within-a-show conceit to be too daft, but it’s hard to imagine anyone caring too much about such quibbles when, in its totality, The Vast of Night is a savvy and well-oiled work of genre craftsmanship that suggests great things in the future of Andrew Patterson. The next knock at his door won’t be the Russians, but Hollywood coming a-calling.
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