A UFO movie that feels like David Lynch made it
I saw the The Vast of Night movie. Now airing on Amazon Prime, The Vast of Night is a low-key sci-fi number made by young directors who’ve seen a lot of Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, and M. Night Shyamalan. But in style and tone, it more resembles a David Lynch movie than anything mainstream or widely palatable.
THE VAST OF NIGHT ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Andrew Patterson
Written by: James Montague, Craig W. Sanger
Starring: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer
Running time: 89 min
Director Andrew Patterson frames Vast of Night as an episode of a late-1950s Twilight Zone-style series called “Paradox Theater”. We enter a fuzzy black-and-white TV console, and only gradually does the scene turn to color or anything resembling modern film quality. At various points in the film, maybe to mimic commercial breaks, The Vast of Night goes back to that old-TV film stock. Then at one point, the screen turns completely black during a monologue. It’s all set to eerie low-key orchestra music, and unsettling tracking shots, from the ground up.
The movie concerns a possible alien invasion of a small New Mexico border town in the late 1950s. My wife, who’s very entrenched in UFO lore, told me that the low camera angles, and the occasional fast-seeming tracking shots, owe a lot to that lore. It holds that if aliens have infiltrated society, then they’re very small and fast-moving, so they’re invisible to us. I kind of doubt that’s true, but I don’t care. Vast of Night has a creepy, ominous vibe, and that’s all that matters.
Yet like Lynch, there’s also good humor, and a simultaneous critique of and glorification of an idealized past. The two young protagonists, a twenty something radio DJ and a smart STEM-type female high-school student, represent the hopeful naïveté of America in the 1950s. Like in Blue Velvet, something rotten is out there to break up the party. In the case of Vast of Night, it’s not in the bushes, it’s in the skies.
A long monologue, delivered by a deranged old lady, feels like a scene from Close Encounters combined with the aesthetics of Twin Peaks. And while it’s well-written and effective, it also points to some of The Vast of Night’s flaws. The movie, even though it clocks in at a crisp 90-plus minutes, often feels ponderous and overlong. Most of the action sits at the very end. The opening 20 minutes, in particular, feel like a mumblecore sci-fi home movie.
But you can’t deny there’s something exciting about The Vast of Night. The filmmakers are clearly enjoying themselves. The movie has a feeling of dread appropriate to our times. But it also has a feeling of optimism and creativity, like the time in which it’s set. In case you haven’t gotten the point yet, it’s as if David Lynch had directed Close Encounters.
This concludes my review of The Vast of Night movie.