Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Vast of Night’ on Amazon Prime, an Earnestly Clever Neo-Throwback UFO Thriller – Decider

Posted: May 30, 2020 at 6:44 am


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A nifty little low-budget retro-UFO feature, The Vast of Night lands on Amazon Prime after first touching down at Slamdance and Toronto in 2019, leaving behind some impressive crop circles (so to speak). Its the directorial debut of Andrew Patterson, whos been labeled a newcomer to keep your eyeballs on; he seems as inspired by Richard Linklater as he is by J.J. Abrams, and recently got a stamp of approval from Steven Soderbergh. So does the movie match the hype, or should we tamp down our expectations a bit before pressing play?

The Gist: Cayuga, New Mexico is a small town so small, when its 1950-something and theres a high school basketball game, its deserted to the point that a flying saucer or two could stop by to top off the tank and grab a Mountain Dew and hardly anybody would notice. But Everett (Jake Horowitz) is a radio man and Fay (Sierra McCormick) is a switchboard operator, and their jobs never sleep, so theyre gonna miss the game. They dont seem bummed about that at all. These platonic teenage pals would rather break in Fays nifty new tape recorder, and banter about gee-whiz-bang gizmos of the future, like electric roads that pilot cars while drivers sleep, or tubes that whoosh people quickly across long distances, or the least plausible of them all, miniature wireless TV-phones that people will carry with them everywhere. Ridiculous!

But the movie fades in on an old tube TV set framing what were about to see as a grainy episode of Paradox Theater complete with an eerie Twilight Zoned-out musical theme so we know this isnt going to be your typical night of spinning tunes and patching in callers dedications. Fay jabs a quarter-inch plug into a socket with a resounding tactile snap and hears a strange noise, a thrumming oscillation that sounds oddly like a Tralfamadorian P-920 warp drive or something thereabouts. So she plays it for Everett, who soon shares it on the radio waves, promising a piece of Elvis carpet for any caller who might identify it.

And the phone jingles and jangles as era-specific phones do. One call is from an ex-soldier who was selected for a crazy military coverup project because hes black and nobody would listen to his wild story; hes very sick now. Another is from an old woman with a more haunting tale that nobody likely believed because a female voice was telling it. And theres no doubt Fay and Everetts little saga is about to get much weirder.

Performance Worth Watching: McCormicks performance brims with confidence. The movie wholly pivots on her axis in a long, one-take scene that steadily alters the movies tone from upbeat to eerie: Fay navigates her switchboard like a pro, popping and plugging cables and chattering like the old-timey operator she is and slowly realizing this night isnt a normal night, not at all.

Memorable Dialogue: When Fay assuredly pushes back that Everett is a bit of an overbearing jerk sometimes, he replies, You are on a stick with me tonight! (You go, girl? You go, girl!)

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: McCormicks assured work represents The Vast of Night perfectly its a thoroughly tenacious and engaging film, clever but never gimmicky, detailed but never mired down in its bobbysoxers and horned-rimmers. I went into it with zero expectations (I read up on the buzz after watching), and was caught off guard by its tenacious pace, buzzing energy and eerie atmosphere.

Its full of long takes not to flash for flashiness sake, but to draw us in, establish character and setting and elongate suspense. Listen to how its lengthy monologues hypnotize and tease us, make us a little bit tense. Notice how exterior sequences are lit by streetlights suspended across roads, hovering on cables, or the ghostly glow of a water tower in the corner of the frame. It concludes not sensationally, but with spooky and awesome visual poetry.

Our Call: The Vast of Night is a stunner on many fronts. STREAM IT!

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.

Stream The Vast of Night on Amazon Prime

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Stream It Or Skip It: 'The Vast of Night' on Amazon Prime, an Earnestly Clever Neo-Throwback UFO Thriller - Decider

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May 30th, 2020 at 6:44 am

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