“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” – Arthur C. Clarke
I remember growing up watching The Twilight Zone with my dad. I recall the classic episodes like “To Serve Man” and “The Invaders” and of course “The Hitch-Hiker” to name a few. But above all else the thing that has stayed with me long after is the iconic voice of Rod Serling. I always found his introduction and narration to be simultaneously intriguing, always leaving me wanting more and frightening, like a smiling stranger asking for your help in the middle of nowhere; you’re not sure why exactly but something just feels off about the whole thing. His voice was at once entrancing and unnerving in a way only he could deliver. I think most importantly though his voice suggested originality, that the story you were about to hear is unlike anything you’ve experienced before that very moment in time. As an homage to the stellar storytelling that program provided for five seasons, 156 episodes in all, The Vast of Night is an example of homage with an identity all its own.
What caught my attention first is the camera work. With such a small budget it becomes clear they needed to get creative with how they spent time within each scene. One way they extended things, in a highly creative manner, is to shoot long single takes, sometimes stretching close to ten minutes in length. A highlight scene occurs when we are taken on a dark, mysterious jaunt through this small town from the switchboard to the local radio station where our two main protagonists bounce between frequently. It is fast, it promotes a sense of purpose as it navigates this town in a way only a local resident could pull off. With all the tension created and a mystery clearly underway this moment of a camera traveling in the dark also provides a kind of unease as you wonder where it’s trying to take you. Much of the film is like this, always pulling you with intrigue, with a mystery whose implications reach far beyond this small, rural New Mexico town.
Featuring all unknowns, the cast is a revelation with performances fit for those who have been acting for years or even decades. Sierra McCormick plays Fay who is wise beyond her youthful sixteen years on planet Earth. McCormick plays her passionately with a constant wonder of what’s next and how she can’t wait to discover the secret of the mysterious sound she heard over the switchboard. Her partner throughout this harrowing enigma is Everett, the radio voice for the locals, played commandingly by Jake Horowitz. His performance caught my attention from the beginning as he steers through the local crazies otherwise known as the town’s people. He knows when to press them and when to walk away and does so emphatically. He is a real energetic presence as he helps Fay uncover the hidden truths of what just might be lurking above their very heads.
Where this movie truly finds its identity is in the long moments where something as simple as a switchboard operator trying to locate the origins of an inexplicable sound covering the airwaves of this small town can take several minutes holding sometimes on a single shot, rarely cutting away.
There are scenes when it’s nothing more than a man talking to a curious voice on the other end of a phone whose stories of classified military operations reach out and grab you demanding your complete attention and does so convincingly and constantly. A lonely shut-in tells horror stories of people gone missing including her young son who vanished without a trace and was never seen again. You don’t experience these moments beyond her telling but through tremendous performances and crackling dialogue, reminiscent of Tarantino, you never feel any less engaged or interested than if you saw these scenes actually play out. It brings back the power of radio before television when imagination was all you had and it was more than enough. In fact there are moments when the visuals fade to black and all you hear is the tremble in this poor woman’s voice as she pleads her case in hopes of someone, anyone, finally believing her story. It is a powerful, tension filled moment, a real highlight of the film.
Whatever shortcomings this film may have whether it’s from a small budget or odd stylistic choices that maybe weren’t bad but just didn’t feel right to me, the finale of the film more than makes up for it. In a film where belief and wonderment are needed to go along on this journey of discovery it all ultimately pays off. Our characters are exposed and left with only one possibility and it is the one thing they’ve been screaming toward whether they realized it or not. We finally get confrontation after so much mystery, after so many what ifs, the reveal is the journey’s price of admission rolled into a single moment of awe. This is a story that attempts to put you into the situation these people are facing and if you allow it you will be there with them at the end, imagining how you would react if present for something so unbelievably earth shattering.
The Vast of Night is a lover letter to The Twilight Zone and makes no attempt to hide that fact. It is tension to the brim, mystery at every turn, fantastic characters realized by tremendous new comers with bright futures ahead of them. It pulls you along, never quite revealing itself or its motives until the final moments and by then you’ve either accepted this movie for what it is and love it or you gave up and like the rest of the film it leaves you feeling underwhelmed. I for one adored its unique approach to such a familiar genre choice. It allows rumor and town legend to fuel an impossible outcome into something that says, in the most perplexing, potentially sinister tone, what if?
Rated PG-13 For: brief strong language
Runtime: 89 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Mystery
Starring: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis (voice)
Directed By: Andrew Patterson
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 4/ Acting: 4.5/ Directing: 4.5/ Visuals: 4
OVERALL: 4 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Check out the trailer below:
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