The Vast of Night (2019)

Rates: * * * 1/2

Why Did I Watch It? New release that was generating a bit of buzz.

Cast, crew, etc.

In small town 1950s America, on the night of the big high school basketball game, a radio DJ and a switch board operator start hearing weird sounds through their equipment. Their investigation of these takes them from mildly curious to outright alarmed, as they discover that something sinister is hovering in the darkness above their heads.

First time director Andrew Patterson has made a clever little sci fi that overcomes its modest means with a flavourful atmosphere. Riffing on McCarthy era Cold War paranoia, classic ‘Twilight Zone’ eps, and countless 50s movie tropes, he wrings a lot of tension and intrigue from very little.

Take the setting; the little town seems almost entirely deserted, pretty much everyone is at the game, and watching the camera glide down the empty, silent streets in a series of long tracking shots is genuinely eerie. The sound design is effective as well. The alien noise is menacing in just the right way; it is creepy and mildly alarming, but also sounds like it could, maybe, be nothing. There is also a great sequence with a radio call in listener, whose disembodied voice provides some backstory in a disconcerting way. All of these elements combine well, to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The two leads, Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick, both offer variations on the same character; they are both kinda cool nerds, who talk and think fast, and wear stylish glasses. They have excellent chemistry, and I like that the film positions them as friends, without forcing it to something more. Both are very good.

The film does run out of steam and ideas in the second half, and the ending was, for me, a bit too straightforward. Having set things up in such a tantalising way, the literal directness of the finale was something of a disappointment. No spoilers on what happens, but I was expecting something more inventive, or at least, open to interpretation.

But this is still a very promising first movie; well made, shot and acted, and a lot of fun for people who know the conventions of this genre and time period.

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