The Vast of Night marks an auspicious debut for first-time director Andrew Patterson as he is joining Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, and Jordan Peele in a new pantheon of genre directors. Patterson infuses The Vast of Night with a combination of bravura style and subtle touches that is unusual to find in most directors, and mostly unheard-of for a first feature film.
As viewers, The Vast of Night helps us fall into the looking glass with an ingeniously simple framing device. We slowly push in on a TV, flickering it’s black and white images within a late ‘50’s living room. We watch the opening credits of the Twilight Zone-esque tv show, Paradox Theater. The episode we sink into is called The Vast of Night. This lets us know, effortlessly, that we are in for a period-piece and in for something unusual.
We meet fast-talking, brash, local radio show wunderkind, Everett (Jake Horowitz) and his eager, equally nerdy friend, Fay (Sierra Mccormick). It is the night of the local, small-town basketball game and we follow our two plucky heroes through a series of long takes as they weave around the school gym, past teachers and students, in and out of conversations, further into a parking lot with enough vintage cars to make a young George Lucas blush, then further into the dark night of small town America. All the way, the two are trying out Fay’s new portable recorder, talking of the amazing scientific advancement she’s read about in magazines.
These proceedings all have the gauzy sheen of a night-in-the-life movies like Dazed and Confused or American Graffiti, until Fay splits from Everett to go to her job. She works as the night telephone switchboard operator and before long hears a strange signal. Everett joins her from the radio station, WOTW, to investigate the nature and origin of the signal.
Depending on your taste in movies, the rest of The Vast of Night will either be a tedious, talky bore or it will be a sublime trip into the mysterious world of fate, storytelling, and dark secrets. I fall into the latter category, finding The Vast of Night to be a nearly perfect combination of nostalgic b-movie sci fi and Spielbergian wonder. This is a sort of cinematic gem that rarely occurs in modern times, a gem to be cherished and puzzled over, like a slightly too-bright star in a black, desert sky on a hot summer night.