Sunday, May 31

The Vast Of Night Review

By Emery Snyder @leeroy711
Director: Andrew Patterson
Starring: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz & Gail Cronauer
Amazon Original – May 29, 2020

In the late 1950’s in Cuyuga, New Mexico, a young switchboard operator, Fay (McCormick) hears a strange transmission on her line. She quickly enlists the help of her radio DJ friend, Everett (Horowitz) to track down the meaning and origin of the phantom signal. Their investigation leads them down a rabbit hole neither were prepared to follow.

This film starts quickly and gets to work right away. The first act sets up the relationship of the two young nerd-throbs with a series of following and tracking shots as they walk through their small town, carrying on in the type of heightened dialogue you would almost expect in Howard Hawks or Preston Sturges films. It immediately brought to mind, Rian Johnson’s BRICK (’05) in that, the film seems to construct and utilize its own lexicon. It’s fast and witty, but easy to slide into. And the use of alternating tracking and following steady cam shots really swept me right into their conversation about magazine articles describing slightly eschewed versions of our modern-day tech. Later, the film showcases a few long shots. Then, we abruptly dive into an entirely different editing style, full of jump and match cuts as our characters get more frantic and technical.

With such a small cast, the acting could have easily been its undoing. Fortunately, all performances were on point here. I would specifically call out Sierra McCormick’s Fay. A large portion of the acting from both McCormick and Horowitz was done alone, only interacting with voices over a phone line. This is a tough job for any actor and it deserves the recognition that it’s not likely to get in a low budget sci-fi. Their work, as well as every other small part gives the entire story an authenticity. I’m not saying it was realistic. I wouldn't really know, but all the elements here come together to exemplify what I imagine a small rural Southwest town in the late 50’s to be like.

Rural America in the late 50’s was the perfect setting for this story. This was a time to both marvel and shudder at the rapidly advancing technologies brought on by the Space Race between the World’s Superpowers. We were looking to the heavens and filling the vastness of our empty spaces with radio signals across an entire spectrum to be decoded into images of Mayberry in every living room, propagated through space, at the speed of light. These advancements had to have had an impact, replacing skepticism with wonder, and adding a healthy dose of fear of the unknown. Orson Welles delivered his “War of the Worlds” broadcast twenty years prior. It would have been just as believable in the late 50’s and likely far more frightening after the world had seen what a nuclear explosion could do.

THE VAST OF NIGHT is not a perfect film. And to its credit, it never feels like it’s trying to be. At times it feels a bit calling like a calling card but upon a second viewing, I feel Patterson’s vision comes through more clearly. It touches on larger social issues like race and gender roles but it never attempts to make much of an analogous statement. And the sci-fi elements aren’t particularly complex. It’s a quaint, small story that puts all of its weight on the charisma and relationship of its two leads. In that it far exceeds the expectations of its scope.

Emery’s Rating
4 out of 5 Stars
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