The Vast Of Night

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Vast Of Night
"Patterson handles the acceleration and deceleration throughout with aplomb, notching things up or down at just the right moments and using inventive camerawork and sound design that encourages you to lean in and listen during the film's quieter moments." | Photo: Courtesy of EIFF

This homage to the 1950s is the sort of story that would have slotted right into The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone but it is primarily a love letter to radio plays like War of the Worlds, showing what can be done with crafty camera work a good cast and strong suggestion, with director Andrew Patterson and writers Craig W Sanger and James Montague working filmmaking rhythms and beats to their advantage.

The action is framed throughout as an episode of a TV show called Paradox Theater, with cutaways to an old cathode ray television - it's a device that could be gimmicky in the wrong hands - but like everything here, Patterson deploys it sparingly and at just the right moments. He begins at a rattling pace as we're introduced to radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) and his friend, peppy switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) ahead of a basketball game in small-town New Mexico where everyone is heading.

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Everett has the gift of the gab and happily regales wannabe cub reporter Fay with tales as they test out her new recording equipment... but when she returns to her switchboard, it's not long before sounds on the line lead them to suspect the basketball team might not be the only ones welcoming outsiders to home turf tonight.

The opening is so deliberately exhausting that when, after following them on a walk through the town, the camera stops moving and dialogue completely takes over, it feels like the perfect moment to slow down with it and drink it all in. We watch as Fay works in a frenzy over the switchboard and, later, as Everett chats to a caller who thinks he knows what is causing the sounds of static they can hear.

Patterson handles the acceleration and deceleration throughout with aplomb, notching things up or down at just the right moments and using inventive camerawork and sound design that encourages you to lean in and listen during the film's quieter moments. The budget may be low, but one thing every filmmaker has is a camera and, in this case, Patterson also has an experienced DoP to hand - Miguel Ioann Littin Menz, whose back catalogue includes Pablo Larraín's Fuga and  Andrés Wood's Violeta Went To Heaven.  The pair of them show you don't need special effects to take an audience on a dash through the town's streets that's every bit as exhilarating as something cooked up by computers. Attention has also been paid to ever detail, from the cat picture and dog ornament that give scenes a lived in look to the smaller elements of the sound design - the squeak of shoes on a gym floor or the fizz of the switchboard wires as Fay pulls them out - all driving the mood.

The plot is familiar but it's the filmmaking that grabs you, with long shots and patient pauses working in tandem to build the tension to breaking point. Character, too, is important and there's a wistful melancholy to the story that goes beyond the B-movie trappings, especially when Fay and Everett consider what the future might hold. You can expect Patterson to be back and armed with a much bigger budget next time - but he proves here it's not cash but creativity that's king.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2020
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The Vast Of Night packshot
A late night radio presenter and a switchboard operator begin to suspect something odd is happening in their small town.
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