(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: The Vast of Night
Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video
The Pitch: In 1950s small town New Mexico, a young switchboard operator begins fielding calls from folks in nearby towns who are reporting mysterious sightings in the sky. The operator and a local radio DJ team up to investigate a mysterious audio frequency that is interrupting the radio signals – a sound which triggers specific memories in a couple of older people in the area.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: A mesmerizing, immersive sci-fi mystery, The Vast of Night gave me that once-or-twice a year feeling I always yearn for when I’m watching a new movie: the feeling of being completely enveloped in a world and being in the hands of a storyteller who makes so many right decisions in a row that I’m confident it’s building to something great. This might just be the best movie of the year that no one is talking about.
This project is notable not only because the story is transportive and compelling (special props to stars Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz), but also because it’s the directorial debut of a previously unknown filmmaker, which carries exciting implications about the future. Andrew Patterson directed this film (he also co-wrote the script under the pseudonym James Montague), which was made for only $700,000. And even though their plots couldn’t be more different, the film I kept coming back to as a comparison point is Rian Johnson’s Brick. Both films feature characters speaking in heightened, stylized dialogue which immediately pull you into the story and make you lean in (Brick is an homage to film noir, The Vast of Night pays tribute to classic sci-fi movies and radio drama), and both are independent movies shot for small budgets which introduced the world to exciting, adventurous storytellers who are capable of doing a lot with a little. While Johnson relied on labyrinthine plotting and clever editing to elevate Brick, Patterson imbues The Vast of Night with incredible long takes which transfix the viewer, pulling them even further into the mysteries of the story and building a tension which builds until its incredible finale.
I probably won’t be able to talk about details of the final act anywhere else on /Film, but I wanted to drop one little observation about the ending below a spoiler warning, so please do yourselves a favor and watch this movie before you read this last part.
Final warning: spoilers ahead.
In nearly every small town movie ever made, there’s typically a character or two who are just aching to escape the confines of their limited community and explore a bigger world. In their daydreams, this far-off destination is often “the big city,” a place which frequently feels dreamy and almost otherworldly in comparison to their current situation. The Vast of Night takes that idea literally when aliens abduct both Fay and Everett at the end of the movie, since they’d both confided that they were looking forward to leaving one day. I thought it was a smart way to expand on and add a fun little twist to a common trope. I can’t wait to see what Patterson does next.
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