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UFOs are real! Well, they might be real. Or, they’re probably imagined. Rather, we’re all crazy and we’re collectively imagining them. Or, maybe, just maybe, they really are real and the space aliens are making us crazy in an attempt to make us believe/not believe that they’re real/not real. All are real possibilities and 2019’s The Vast of the Night lays all of them on the table for us to sort out.
Directed by Andrew Patterson
Set in 1950s rural New Mexico, The Vast of Night follows fast-talking radio show huckster, Everett (Jake Horowitz), and his inquisitively mousy side-kick, Faye Crocker (Sierra McCormick). The entire film takes place over the course of several hours set against the backdrop of the opening season boys high school basketball game. Employing some exceptional tracking shots, unfortunately paired with some clunky audio, Everett works his way through the crowd, glad-hands, slaps backs, sets up the radio equipment to record the big game, and runs in to the hyper-enthusiastic, Faye Crocker. The opening scene, somewhat reminiscent of the Richard Linklater’s decidedly non-horror film Dazed and Confused, is a beautiful Spielbergian depiction of small town America that simultaneously portrays the excitement of the big game and the myopic universe of individuals within the community. The tracking shots, snappy dialogue, authentic set/costume design, and an exquisite soundtrack pull in the audience with immediacy and purpose.
The evening unfolds in to a fascinating series of dialogues, monologues, and testimonials amongst the townsfolk, individuals calling in to Everett’s radio show, and a series of increasing tense discussions with Faye Crocker operating the local switchboard. Both Everett and Faye begin to experience strange sounds and equally strange encounters with individuals that have fantastical stories about lights, sounds, space travel, and yes, space aliens. Everett and Faye believably, unquestionably, and increasingly frantically move from scene to scene desperately working to unearth the UFO mystery.
What makes The Vast of the Night so special is that the film is largely set around long single camera monologues that allow for the scenes to breath and slowly let the audience in on the potential uncertainly surrounding UFOs. In one of the longer of these scenes a gentleman calls in to Everett’s radio show and proceeds to dissect his military service encounter with the space aliens and their space craft. There’s no highs and no lows to their conversation, just a respectful and caring dialogue about a man who deeply believes that has seen something and a man trying to understand the potential peril about to befall his sleepy little New Mexico community.
The final act of the film ratchets up the tension and pace as Everett and Faye are forced to recon with the fact that the UFOs aren’t relenting and they might be the ones that the space aliens have in their sights. We won’t spoil the ending save for the fact that it suffers from too much “show, don’t tell.” For a film that’s so incredibly unique and inventive the ending scenes radically whipsaw from arthouse artistry to Hollywood grandstanding.
The Vast of Night delivers on so many different cinematic levels that it’s rather difficult to ingest this change in tone and delivery. While it’s nice to be able to confirm that the UFOs are indeed real, sometimes it’s nice to wonder and be forced to puzzle apart the vagaries of the universe in our own time and space. As clever as The Vast of Night is, it could have left a little more to Everett and Faye’s imaginations.
The Vast of Night is likely PG-13 and is streaming on Amazon.
Review by Mike Campbell