Science fiction is a genre pushed by wonder. Sure, large set pieces, effects, and CGI are hallmarks of the genre now, and while they have their merit, there is an eerie sense of awe and tension that series like The Twilight Zone or radio broadcasts of War of the Worlds were able to capture that immerses the audience into a liminal space of questioning the reality in the medium and their own as the events unfold. This nostalgic wonder from the golden age of science fiction is directly what director Andrew Patterson taps into for The Vast of Night, a production from Amazon Studios.
The film opens with the lines, “You are entering a realm between clandestine and forgotten,” an intro that’s an allusion to science fiction of the past, as a flickering screen transports you to the past and “The Vast of Night” appears on an old television screen with score that brings a tingle to your spine with the way it both pays homage to The Twilight Zone and differentiates itself. Right off the bat, it’s clear that The Vast of Night is a love letter to science fiction of the past, and it excels in this by telling a fascinating story that is driven by its straightforward simplicity.
Photographed in soft, inky-dark tones and shot in nearly real time, The Vast of Night follows Fay (Sierra McCormick), a young switchboard operator and her radio DJ crush Everett (Jake Horowitz) as they discover a strange audio frequency in 1957 New Mexico. that could change their small town and the future forever. Set at the dawn of the space-race and replete with uncanny and ironic period details, The Vast of Night brilliantly calls back to classic science fiction television while also being forward enough for contemporary audiences.
The story itself is simplistic and character driven, relying on the actors and the atmosphere over big science fiction CGI gags to wow the audience. When Fay hears gets a call on the switchboard of a scared woman and a weird sound she begins to hear the sound everywhere, including Everett’s radio show. When she alerts him of the sound, the two go on a hunt through dropped phone calls, AM radio signals, secret reels of tape forgotten in a library, switchboards, crossed patchlines and an anonymous phone call from a listener. Through all of this, the characters’ dialogue carries everything. From the retro language to the accents that make it clear it’s the 50s, each piece of The Vast of Night feels like a film pulled from the past and brought to the contemporary.
Additionally, the chemistry between Fay and Everett in the film’s slow opening helps to build a relationship for the viewer to be invested in. They’re friends and they can even be more. They’re kind to each other, and while Fay at points seems like the smitten “do anything the man says” type, when she begins to discuss science and technology she comes alive in the scene. Both McCormick and Horowitz are artful on screen, and every quick line of dialogue or moment of silence between them or close up of their emotions build The Vast of Night’s atmosphere, world, and has made it my favorite film this year.
Additionally, as the mysterious sound’s origin is revealed, writers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger take great care to use an explanation that is familiar to science fiction fans while twisting it slightly and connecting it to a thread of reality. That thread is the way the US military utilizes Black and brown bodies as fodder in anything dangerous. These small moments that confront the racism of the time is also relevant to our current time which makes it’s narrative usage a great choice.
There is a quiet power to The Vast of Night. The film finds science fiction perfection in its simplicity. There is a beautiful nostalgia to the film that is coupled with a story that stands apart from others in the genre. The Vast of Night perfectly captures the 1950s and it transports its audience in a captivating way to the past making it not only a must-watch for fans of science fiction, but for fans of that era of cinema.
The Vast of Night
There is a quiet power to The Vast of Night.Â The film finds science fiction perfecting in its simplicity. There is a beautiful nostalgia to the film that is coupled with a story that stands apart from others in the genre.Â The Vast of NightÂ perfectly captures the 1950s and it transports its audience in a captivating way to the past making it not only a must-watch for fans of science fiction, but for fans of that era of cinema.