Simple but precise, The Vast of Night proves that low budgets and COVID times aren’t real excuses for making lackluster movies. What is essentially three to four long sequences transforms into a story that continues to build and build the stakes until it’s explosive finale. And I’m not talking about bombs and pyrotechnics, I’m talking about explosive EMOTIONS.
Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick leap off the screen as two teenagers who discover and investigate strange radio frequencies while the majority of the town is gathered at the local high school gymnasium. The desolate streets of 1950s small town New Mexico serve as the backdrop as the two kids race from point A to point B to uncover the origins of something sinister before it’s too late.
It’s impossible to write a full-length review without mentioning the budget of The Vast of Night: A whopping $700,000. Director Andrew Patterson made the most out of a tiny budget and squeezed out every last drop to get his debut feature made. The cinematography and perfectly executed one-takes suggest a larger pool of cash at hand, and the transformative quality of the South in the 1950s is riveting.
Its story doesn’t suggest a big, blockbuster sci-fi hit, but it pushes the right buttons and shows just enough to absolutely land a haunting third act. It’s not Star Wars, but it’s not trying to be. It lands much closer to the Cloverfield series or even Under the Skin. The threat of some intergalactic being or violence is there, but it’s not the goal. Human emotion and reaction is – and it is quite visceral.
I emphasize this to say that, while the filmmaking is superb and an absolute home run, it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the film. There’s a film-snobbery way to approach this film the same way as a Birdman or a 1917 where the story may not hold up as being a landmark, but the long shots and technical work are off the charts and therefore enhance the rest of the experience.
Every barebones, broad aspect of filmmaking (from camerawork to editing to sound design to script, etc.) is working at a high level. At the very center of it all, the two leads carry The Vast of Night. Jake Horowitz as Everett and Sierra McCormick as Fay. Equally iconic and charismatic, the two riff of each other and complement each other so well. Everett is a cocky, know-it-all smooth talker and Fay is a younger, inquisitive individual yearning to learn more about day-to-day work in the radio station business.
In every facet, there’s something to like about The Vast of Night. Some may critique its pacing or ambiguous ending, but I found it to be a completely immersive and enthralling portrait of the 50s while opening the doors to something much deeper and ethereal.
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