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THE SOUND OF SCIENCE
The Vast of Night (12)
Review: RJ Bland
Every now and then a trailer comes along that makes you sit up and take notice. For genre fans, always seeking the next upcoming gem, the trailer for indie sci-fi The Vast of Night ticked all the boxes when it was first released late last year. An intriguing high concept premise, a richly nostalgic theme and a single tracking shot that seems almost implausible all singled this film out as one to watch. Throw in the fact that this was Director Andrew Patterson's first feature and the hype train is in full throttle. However – and we've said this a number of times before – a great trailer means nothing at the end of the day. If the film sucks, you'll be thrown to the wolves – and those wolves will be even more pissed if you've got their hopes up.
It's the 1950's (it's not clear what year exactly) and in the small-town of Cayuga, New Mexico – a school basketball game attracts the vast majority of the townsfolk to the local school. However for Everett, Cayuga's fast-talking young DJ and teenage switchboard operator Fay, it's just another night shift at the town's radio station, WOTW. However, when Fay starts hearing strange interference over the radio broadcast she alerts Everett. Completely stumped, he replays the sounds on the radio and asks if any listeners have ever heard the noise before or if they know what it could be. After a couple of responses, Everett and Fay race around town trying to get to the bottom of the story, which becomes more weird and significant the further they dig,
It's fair to say that The Vast of Night is one of those films that puts a Director firmly on the map. Ari Aster (Hereditary) Robert Eggers (The Witch) and Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko - he was 26 when he directed that film!) made waves with their debut features and although this film won't be afforded the same level of attention by general audiences, it's no less excellent.
First thing's first; anyone expecting something scary is going to be disappointed. Anyone expecting full-on Independence Day style alien action is also going to be as well. But it doesn't matter because The Vast of Night isn't playing that kind of game. It's not in the business of cheap thrills and numbing violence. It offers something altogether more subtle. It would much rather channel it's creative energy into things like atmosphere and style and its script and the result is a mesmeric and fascinating film that's small in budget but big in ideas.
Like Pontypool (2008 – and another film revolving around radio and DJ's) a lot of the tension and intrigue comes from what we don't see on screen. What is inferred and what could potentially be going on. It's in this exploratory period where The Vast of Night really finds it feet and the story is propelled forward by the sheer urgency of the characters and the knowledge that they could be uncovering something really big. The film has been called a love letter to 50's sci-fi and also compared to the Twilight Zone and whilst those are both accurate descriptors, the film still very much has its own identity.
Part of that is down to the talent of director Andrew Patterson who dazzles with some quite extraordinary sequences. First time directors can sometimes be prone to being overambitious to the point of impatient but here it feels controlled and necessary. We're meant to feel like we're right in the middle of the pursuit for the truth by the central duo and Patterson injects a real sense of energy into it as well as creating a dark, rich and charming retro backdrop.
The script by Patterson and Chris W. Sanger is lively and crackles along at a furious pace. The conversation between the two leads in the opening five minutes or so of the film is delightful. Of course, it's all helped by exceptional performances by both Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz, who could have easily come across as a couple of mouthy wise-asses, but instead are just a lot of fun to be around.
The Vast of Night will undoubtedly have its detractors. Some will say the film is just a 'bunch of people talking' and that the ending is a bit of a cop out. Style over substance. But we'd respectfully disagree. There's a place for bombastic, rollercoaster horror – but there's also something to be said for understated (and stylish) genre fare that elicits awe and wonder, instead of fear and terror.
The Vast of Night is a low-key, slow burn sci-fi throwback that showcases the talents of a visionary director. It's atmospheric, it's charming and it's wonderfully nostalgic. Just don't go expecting any 'Aliens' level action.
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