The Vast of Night, 2020

They say there’s nothing new under the sun. But under the ground…

Tremors 1990

©  Amazon Studios

You’re entering the realm between clandestine and forgotten

– Voice-over/narration

Have you seen the trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog, 2020? The part where he is running with a tortoise in his hands? Well, the intergalactic, intimate and character driven film is Sonic, and the production values, the lengthy tracking shots and the sound design, those are the tortoise.

Loosely based Based on the Kecksburg UFO incident, and the Foss Lake Disappearances, the film is barren, full of technical virtuosity and without a single tumbleweed rolling across the vast spaces between the housing units on both sides of the open street. The beginning, a winding long take that stubbornly follows Everett (Jake Horowitz)and Fay (Sierra McCormick) as they walk through the gym and then outside into the parking lot, without close ups to keep us detached from the characters and let their decisions make us feel for them. This puts us in a hypnotic state and sets in a sense of motion, even when the actors settle down, for a moment. The same choices give way to feelings of intimacy and warmth as the film plays along forward.

Another thing that it does is, when there is a close up shot, it is significant and substantial and holds layers upon layers of meaning – and in an alien sighting/invasion film that’s a whole lot of layers, unless we’re watching ID4. Alien invasions aren’t always conducted by massive space vessels blasting all Earth’s landmarks to smithereens, sometimes they simply hover in the skies and that’s that.

The dialogue is fast and overlapped, all along as the camera stalks them from a street level, through the entire town, down the main drag, around a corner, over some grass, past the power station, through the gym parking lot, into the crowded gym, and then out again. Plus, the viewer has to nudge and shoulder his way in, for it refuses to easily do so. The Vast of Night doesn’t let you in, you must gate-crash. You must go to it.

The film is designed to remind us of the Twilight Zone episodes, for some odd Andrew Patterson fanboy reason; who keeps switching between images that combine black and white in a continuous spectrum, producing a range of shades of gray, like any given TV show from the 1950s with a vertical look, acquired with and aspect ratio of 1.37, and then back to 4:3 and 16:9. This is done to settle in a feeling of filmmaking adroitness and also to make the viewers feel uneasy and disoriented as director Andrew Patterson takes us through the the town of New Mexico.
Patterson pulled out every trick in the Indie Film Book to bring his feature film to light, or dark, or the light of dark, creating some beautiful and highly versatile tracking shots, with nothing more than a digital-camera and a go-cart, and that highly distressful throbbing sound intercepting the radio frequency.

Shot entirely in New Mexico, Amazon was clever (quick and farsighted) enough to pick the film at the Slamdance Film Festival. A film, which is made on a string-shoe budget and has some of the most innovative and exhilarating scenes ever put to film, even when compared to those big budget Marvel-type capitalist, consumerist conglomerates, I mean, films.

This is something I’m very proud of […] Everyone that worked on the movie since it debuted a year ago (in 2019), has been passionate about it and have found creative ways to make it relevant […] so this movie has done everything I could’ve imagined . Now I really hope it can become that kind of thing that people watch for several decades.

Patterson

The Vast of Night is not your average UFO sighting film, since it takes so many detours into the human psyche, and then a man with a lung disease calls into the radio station, followed by frantic ramblings of a woman that cranks up the alarm to eleven.

The switchboard operator scenes are such a treat to watch. It is the only thing moving at a normal speed in a film that seems to drag its pace throughout, to build an atmosphere of intrigue, I believe? Night is a simple film, that deals with ambitious people and too curious for their own good, modest men and women, who carry a tape recorder with them everywhere they go. One of such scenes is a is a ten-minute single take where Fay, at the switchboard, takes calls, makes calls, plugging wires in, pulling wires out, each call with a different agenda. It it all amped up with the urgency with which the task is being undertaken, with a sense of impending doom and that something is very wrong ‘out there’. Crafting such a scene requires a filmmaker with an extraordinary knowledge of his audience. It is all executed with self-assurance, and skill.

This is a smart, restraint and a well-made, retro take on the classic Alien Invasion story, a short and sweet film that draws you in with its atmosphere and craftsmanship instead of using dazzling special effects, it announces the arrival of director Andrew Patterson in a very subtle and a highly entertaining manner. The complicated in the film is taken care of by Patterson with subtlety and patience and a certain flexibility, whose sense is dripping all over the set-piece(s).

What could have become a Twilight Zone parody, is a precise and inventive approach to filmmaking – lucid and placing the keen viewer in the shoes of the characters and what could happen if aliens actually fell from the sky in the 1940s and are being experimented upon at Area 51. There is terror, there is intrigue, there is a new breed, a new strain of genre virus, unraveling, showing itself right before our eyes.
Vast can easily be compared to Orson Welles‘ 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. The radio station, WOTW, whose call sign is set in glowing red letters, suggest that the peril the town is experiencing is close kin to the latter. That and the inventive and genuinely suspenseful Pontypool, 2009.

Vast sets in a mood of excitement, and raw terror that fill the senses with defenestration of standard filmmaking techniques, which do not get caught in the web of the genre cliche, the Alien Invasion phenomena, instead they become highly engaging and fun to watch and hear; sometimes the screen fades to black (without sound) for a few seconds and it makes the viewer think that something’s wrong with the copy of the film he/she just rented or is streaming. I mean it gets real, dodging the pedestrian nature of such films; hokey and clumsy and with its close encounters that seem eerily mundane. Not here though. We have a tonal viscosity here, a texture and affection for the eerie.

Every scene brings out something new, every phone call brings with it a revelation and a desire to meet a loved one, or having a friend abducted while the caller and the friend served in a remote (top secret) part of the military.

The footprints on the pathway after the game is another story, put in there by Patterson by placing the entire film within a framing device of a black-and-white TV showing an episode of the Paradox Theater Hour, just so the audience is kept at a slight remove, a distancing technique used by Patterson and Craig W. Sanger.

The Vast of Night is a passionate, and a technically sound film and an entirely brand spanking new take on the genre. The eerie images, stark cinematography and a constant level of tension make for a crackling, unsettling 91 minute ride. Although, one, which takes some time getting used to, but once the keen viewer is let in, that’s it, there’s no turning back.

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