The Vast of Night is a perfect example of what can be pulled off with a micro-budget. Here is a sci-fi tale that may be familiar but is told with such an inventive precision that it feels completely fresh. Director Andrew Patterson has such respect for the genre, that he knows how to avoid cliches in a film that is about a possible UFO invasion set in the late 1950s. The Vast of Night is destined to be one of the freshest films of the year.
The film begins at a high school basketball game where we are introduced to two teens, Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick), who leave the fame to go to their nighttime jobs. Everett hosts a nightly radio show and Fay runs the town switchboard, both positions that put them in a unique position to get wind of something strange going on. Their initial interaction is full of wit and charm as Everett teaches Fay how to work an audio recorder and interview townsfolk. It is an efficient and effective opening, shot in long takes that become the film's signature style.
Everett and Fay's night is interrupted when a strange sound comes through one of the phone lines. Fay also hears it interrupt the radio broadcast. She calls Everett and neither know what it is but Everett sees a chance for good radio and decides to play it for his audience. This elicits a call from someone who is familiar with the sound. Soon, strange reports start coming in of something in the sky. This sets the two off to discover what is going on.
The setup is familiar is you have watched The Twilight Zone or The X-Files or any number of alien invasion films. However Patterson wisely acknowledges this early by framing the film as an episode of a fiction show called "Paradox Theatre Hour." He also knows that the mystery needs to take focus to honor the genre. Thus, the film often avoids close-ups and details of its characters in favor of keeping a killer pace. The dialogue is dense with slang that takes some time to get used to but will no doubt make a second viewing fun.
In the center of The Vast of Night is a stunning sequence. The camera flies around the whole town in one big, unbroken take. It is a true "How did they do that?" moment that is all the more impressive because it was done without the aid of computer trickery. The scene also functions well in the story to show how alone Everett and Fay are in discovering a UFO.
The Vast of Night is stubborn in its methods of storytelling. It is a film that you must submit to rather than expect it to cater to modern audience sensibilities. It is a rewarding and enthralling film as a result but it will no doubt rub some folks the wrong way. I personally loved it and can't wait to see it again.