The Vast of Night

★★★1/2

The Mrs. and I were fortunate enough to see a screening of “The Vast of Night” at The Tibbs Drive-In located on Indianapolis’ southwest side (480 S Tibbs Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46241) on Saturday, May 16 prior to its release on Amazon Prime on Friday, May 29. I can’t speak for her, but it felt really damned good to see a movie on the big screen again. The last one I saw prior to quarantine was the Vin Diesel vehicle “Bloodshot” way back on Saturday, Mar. 14, which humorously enough was playing on the screen next door to “The Vast of Night” at the same time.

It’s the 1950s in small town Cayuga, N.M. Most of the community is enraptured by a high school basketball game that’s transpiring. This doesn’t mean a hill of beans to 16-year-old student/switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) nor local radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz). They’re busy walking, talking, playing with her newly acquired tape recorder, discussing what makes “good radio.” A strange audio frequency comes through the radio, which leads the duo on a nightlong investigation canvassing Cayuga and interviewing a good portion of Everett’s “five-person audience.”  

“The Vast of Night” was first runner-up for the Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as well as the directorial debut of Andrew Patterson and screenwriting debut of James Montague and Craig W. Sanger. It’s an auspicious start for the filmmakers, but not without its problems. “The Vast of Night” is so damned talky … arguably too damned talky. Much of the dialogue is witty and sharp, but there’s just such an abundance of it. There are instances where the filmmakers fade to black and allow the dialogue to roll onward. I most assuredly spaced out. Some of these folks make The Architect from “The Matrix Reloaded” seem mum by comparison.

Where “The Vast of Night” truly excels is in its cinematography by M.I. Littin-Menz, who also shot the recent Jesse Eisenberg Marcel Marceau Holocaust drama “Resistance.” The movie is almost entirely comprised of long take tracking shots. There’s an especially impressive one that sweeps the camera through Cayuga into the high school gymnasium and out again.

The performances are also impressive. McCormick and Horowitz (who reads like a younger Justin Long) are likeable in spite of often jerkily flirting with one another, which is important as the piece is essentially a two-hander. They do the walk and talk well enough it’d make Aaron Sorkin proud. Horowitz was sometimes hard to understand however as he incessantly had a cigarette dangling from his lips. Yay, youthful onscreen smoking! Also, yay period authenticity! 

“The Vast of Night” won’t be for all audiences. It sorta seemed like a combination of J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8” (only concerning radio instead of film, taking place in the ‘50s as opposed to the ‘70s and with older and fewer kids) and the more loquacious entries of Richard Linklater’s filmography, i.e. “Slacker,” the “Before” trilogy and “Waking Life.” The movie is framed as an episode of “Paradox Theatre,” which apes anthology television series of the late ‘50s to mid ‘60s such as “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits.” Fans of those properties will likely dig it … I just knew it was bitchin’ to be at passion pit with my best gal even if there was no backseat bingo afoot.

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