The Vast of Night movie review: A gripping old-school sci-fi thriller

The Vast of Night, an indie sci-fi thriller distributed by Amazon, harks back to classic stories and accounts of UFOs and alleged alien sightings, and the steady diet of shows and movies made on them which many of us grew up on.

The Vast of Night movie cast: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis, Greg Peyton
The Vast of Night movie director: Andrew Patterson
The Vast of Night movie rating: 4 stars

The night sky has fascinated humans for millennia. It has also, for almost the entire history of our race, eluded comprehension. Our ancestors thought the celestial objects were gods and sacrificed animals to please them. Many of us still believe stars decide our fate (thus the Shakespearean phrase ‘The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars’ that inspired the title of a very popular book).

It is only in the last few centuries that we have come to understand the tiny pinpoints in the sky. Now we know, thanks to science, that stars are distant, inconceivably huge and hot balls of gases that may have their own planets like our sun. And some of those planets, theoretically at least, may have living organisms like the earth.

Although there is no scientifically verifiable evidence of life beyond earth, that has not stopped sci-fi writers from concocting stories around extraterrestrial beings, alien invasions, UFOs (Unidentified Flying Object) and so on. Speculative fiction is the most popular kind, for it tells readers stories about things that do not exist.

The Vast of Night, an indie sci-fi thriller distributed by Amazon, harks back to those classic stories and accounts of UFOs and alleged alien sightings, and the steady diet of shows and movies made on them which many of us grew up on. The movie, helmed by Andrew Patterson and penned by James Montague and Craig W Sanger, makes no secret that it is meant to be a nostalgia-tinged experience — for viewers who are old enough anyway.

I did not watch The Twilight Zone (TWZ) as a kid, but when The Vast of Night was introduced as an episode of TWZ-like show on a black-and-white television set, I understood what they were going for.

While it is an obvious throwback to old sci-fi stories, the movie is its own thing as well. I have talked about how extensively The Vast of Night borrows from classic stuff, but The Vast of Night is not a repackaged The Twilight Zone. Nearly every frame of this beautifully shot movie evokes awe. The directors and writers understand and capitalise on the wonder even grownups feel at the very thought of aliens, UFOs, and the like.

The characters are fresh, well-written and the two lead actors add a lot to the movie through convincing performances. The story is set in a fictional New Mexico town in the 1950s, and is about two teenagers Fay (Sierra McCormick) and Everett (Jake Horowitz) — the former a switchboard operator and the latter a DJ on the local radio channel.

They encounter a strange audio frequency coming from the radio and decide to probe as Everett thinks it would be entertaining radio. Their investigation leads to a phone call with a US Army veteran and later a call and a personal meeting with an old woman. Both claim to know more about the perplexing frequency and the mystery behind it. Of course, the aliens are behind it.

Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick in a still from The Vast of Night.

The plot itself is fairly thin, but the overall writing, especially when it comes to dialogue, is quite strong. It is the dialogue, in fact, that makes the movie so compulsive a watch. Well, that and its visuals.

This movie is said to be made on a shoestring budget, but this, save for a few minutes towards the end, does not show at all. Sure, it is no Interstellar, but the camerawork by Miguel Ioann Littin Menz is quite wonderful. Of course, low budget means there are few, if any, special effects, but the script, cleverly written to accommodate the lack of moolah, and direction do not need them much.

The 1950s setting is quite well realised, right down to the small details like accent. My only quibble with The Vast of Night was its final act, which disappointed me slightly. I have to admit the payoff was not quite what I was hoping for. But still, I immensely enjoyed this movie due to its distinctive classic vibe, how honest and frankly worshipful it is about its inspirations, the aura of mystery it maintains towards the big reveal and the engaging dialogue. I can totally see why Amazon saw potential in this indie gem.

Z24 News

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