Immediately taking its Twilight Zone inspiration by the horns, The Vast of Night dives deep into a crisp setting surrounded by the space-race and the 1950s iconography that comes along with it. Two radio-obsessed teens discover a strange frequency, and if you can tell where this one is going from the second the film opens, then join the club. As predictable a story as it may look to tell, The Vast of Night is littered with pockets of innovation here or there.
The plot peppers in the inevitable twist rather well. Whilst the pay-off isn’t all there, how Andrew Patterson builds the film up and sprinkles in moments of doubt or abnormal scenarios is competent and rather engaging. Holding lengthy shots that focus in on the smaller details of his characters, there is a semblance of ingenuity layered beneath the rather convectional moments. For every innovative shot comes a predictable mise en scène, for every engaging bit of dialogue come three more immediately after it that brings us right back to that sense of mediocrity. There’s an incredible plot buried deep within The Vast of Night, clawing at the surface, trying to break free, like something stuck under a sheet of frozen ice on top of a lake. It’s a shame. We can see what the film is going for, it’s looking right back at us, but we have no way of reaching this potential.
What follows, then, is some of the more conventional moments. Shots that long for intervention in the editing suite, most feeling rather stuffy and wholly independent looking for the sake of it, or just not adding anything of great concern to the narrative. A slow-burning story is told somewhat competently as we learn about the real nightmares that await in the sky through long, winding conversations on the radio, but it never feels like we’re getting anywhere wholly original or invigorating. Its sci-fi moments are as predictable as expected, suffocating in the iconography of the 1950s.
Certainly solid, but The Vast of Night begins to feel like a one-trick pony after it utilises the same three unconventional filming styles. Lengthy takes every now and then, a grainy filter that captures the feeling of the 1950s and costume and set design that doubles down on that feeling too. As a debut, it’s a solid technical merit, but lacks a wholly engaging story, which skirts around the existence of extra-terrestrial beings and the controversy of such an initial discovery.