“The Vast of Night” – a film review by Gary Chew
If Fox Mulder and Dana Scully had had some kind of banner notification about strange occurrences going on somewhere in America that required their investigatory talents such as a Bat Signal, then The Vast of Night would be flashing that message across a dark sky to this now, unfortunately, defunct duo so well-known to seek… out there… what’s likely the truth.
Agents Mulder and Scully would need a sign from Alexander Patterson, a young debuting film director, out of Oklahoma City, on whom we need keep an eye. Patterson isn’t really known for anything that can be called spectacular… although, that might change. This The Vast of Night thing’s got quite a bit going for it even though most of us have all been there and done that.
Does Roswell ring a bell? Well, it’s cleverly scripted that the name of that small town in New Mexico is not mentioned at all. But Cayuga, New Mexico is. And that’s the fictitious burg where, in the dark of night, during the mid to late Fifties, things got really Roswellian.
What you have is Fay, a 16-year-old girl who does the local telephone operator night shift just off the main drag, such as it is, in beautiful downtown Cayuga. Just over a block or so you’ll find Everett, the tiny town radio station’s evening dee-jay. Since Everett does radio, he’s sort of the bon vivant wannabe of Cayuga, and probably not yet 18. The station’s call sign where Everett works is unrealistically given as WOTW. Last time I saw a map, New Mexico is west of the Mississippi River, so surely there are science-fiction shenanigans planned for this picture. (But, how ’bout KOTW instead?)
And to put a finer edge on the radio announcer guy, the PR material describes him as charismatic. Oh yes indeed, humor is needed as much as the strange and unexplained circumstances put to this script by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger. Both of these guys spend most of their time in central Oklahoma, too.
I won’t bother you with the players’ names. You… and I as well… have never heard of them. As the acting is exemplary, that ought not put you off. Even the scenes where off-camera voices are speaking in dialogue with on screen actors, all is straight ahead convincing. Lines are delivered professionally.
Audio is almost as big a part of this movie as the visuals. Much is made of editing old quarter-inch audio tape. (I’ll never know the number of spots I produced when I was in commercial AM.) All of the recording equipment is ancient, but looks genuine. Everett has brought some of it to the local high school’s first basketball game of the season… for interviewing students and fans. Fay is there, too, before her shift. She’s taking lessons from Everett on how to operate the tape unit and also learn the art of the interview. Everett sort of interviews her so she can experience his “smooth” technique.
Back at the phone office, Fay is shown plugging-in and unplugging folks’ needs for phone chatter. The radio is playing WOTW behind her; she’s listening to Everett while dealing with lots of wires. Then all at once, on her radio speaker, she hears a really weird sound coming in on top of Everett’s jock show. My gawd, what IS THAT? And so the story starts to roll, and it will keep your attention. In fact, much of what director Patterson is working for in making this picture is to nail the audience’s attention, and never let up. Worked for me.
A caller tells Fay the eerie sound is emanating from miles and miles up in the night sky that all of us assume is rather vast. Exactly where and what’s making the noise are fuel for much of the rest of the movie. DJ Everett surely must put on an LP, because he races from the studio with Fay in tow since she’s not tied down with a busy switchboard.
Other than interiors, all scenes are in darkness. All camerawork is slick; and as well, curiously slips and slides along the deserted streets of Cayuga. (There must be a song title in that last phrase.)
Attention must be paid for The Vast of Night as the plot thickens and wanes … then thickens again; and finally, allowing for a resolution that’s not as forthcoming as I’d like it to be. Yet, it does touch base with previous sci-fi works like The X-Files, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, for some nutty reason, two non sci-fi pictures: American Graffiti and The Last Picture Show.
That last notion of mine is because I did read The Vast of Night was filmed in the little town of Whitney, Texas. (It’s about half way between Dallas and Austin.) The Last Picture Show was set in a small Texas town during the same time period director Patterson’s “Night Vasting” puts you.
Promotional material says Patterson is not breathing heavily to go on to Hollywood. He wants to hang out around Oklahoma City. But, he might want to rethink that. Heavens to Will Rogers! Brad Pitt is a native of Shawnee, Oklahoma. And it’s just down the road a ways from OKC.
Just who does the Rod Serling voice impersonation at the beginning? I have no idea; however, it is a reasonable facsimile. So… get zoned on Amazon with The Vast of Night.