Friday, May 29, 2020

'The Vast of Night' Sheds Light On Some Fresh Talent

"E.T. wants to phone who now?"

The Vast of Night, an impressive debut from director Andrew Patterson, from a screenplay by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, was always going to find its way to Amazon Prime's platform, as they immediately purchased the film after its 2019 Slamdance debut. But it's unlikely it would also have been premiering at drive-in theaters were it not for our current situation.

And perhaps that's the only good thing to come of this pandemic, as a drive-in theater is the perfect venue for this 1950's-set tale about a single night in a small New Mexico town that may or may not be experiencing some UFO visitations. (For those not lucky enough to live near a drive-in, you can also watch it on Amazon Prime right now.)

Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick star as Everett and Fay. Everett is a DJ at the local radio station, and the electronics nerd the high school calls when they're having technically difficulties before a basketball game. Fay is a high school student with similarly nerdy interests like tape recorders and photography, who also works the night shift at the town's telephone switchboard. We're introduced to them in a dizzying tracking shot that weaves through the high school gym and amongst conversations with fellow students, teachers, and maintenance men that may leave you a little discombobulated.

Eventually director Patterson narrows the scope, concentrating on Everett, Fay, and some weird sounds that are coming through the telephone lines. When Everett broadcasts the sounds over the radio, in the hopes that someone listening can identify them, he and Fay hear from some locals with very...interesting stories.

The Vast of Night isn't telling a new story, but it is telling a familiar story in an often unexpected way. There are some tracking shots and single takes that rank up there with the works of Sam Raimi and Martin Scorsese, but equally striking are the times the camera remains still, close on the actors (Horowitz and McCormick about both riveting), as they deliver dialogue that subtly reveals so much about their characters and their respective dreams.

If I have any criticism, it's the use of a framing device, one that starts, ends, and interrupts the story throughout, that presents the film as an episode of a 1950's Twilight Zone-type TV show called Paradox Theater. It adds nothing to the movie, and only managed to annoy me whenever it was used. Perhaps the director, realizing he wasn't telling a very "original" story, felt this framing would make it seem more unique, when in fact, it's everything else he does with the film that helps it rise above the cliched.

No comments:

Post a Comment