Balder bless filmmakers who know how to make a 90-minute movie. Seems like everything these days is a 2 hour and 45 minute epic, and that’s fine, but sometimes I just want to watch a movie that’s not going to involve hitting pause so I can take the dog out. With THE VAST OF NIGHT (streaming on Prime), Andrew Patterson has delivered a captivating, mood-dense, satisfying, 89-minute snack of a movie. There’s just two primary characters and one primary mystery. Everett and Fay are two teenagers in 1950s New Mexico, and just about the only people in town not attending that night’s big high school basketball game. He hosts a radio show and she’s a switchboard operator, and they’re trying to get to the bottom of a mysterious sound that’s interfering with the phones.
Fay lets Everett know and Everett broadcasts the sounds and then a guy named Billy calls in with info about something spooky that he witnessed in his younger days in the military, and that leads to a woman named Mabel calling in to deepen the mystery. VAST is a very simple movie but it’s told with exceptional skill. I love the camera work here, as Patterson and cinematographer M. I. Littin-Menz like to keep the camera in chase position. (Parts of it are reminiscent of Raimi’s camera work in the Evil Dead films, with the camera positioned low and constantly moving.) We see a lot of this movie from behind Everett and Fay, which adds to the tension. We’re always chasing, we’re always a step behind our two leads, except in those moments when they’re sitting and listening. In those moments, we’re all on the same page and in the same place and learning together. But then Everett and Fay are off running and we’re just trying to stay on their heels. The pacing of VAST is exquisite. Characters talk fast and characters move fast. For a film that spends a lot of time just sitting with people and listening to them talk, there’s nary a bland second in this film, and that comes from the quickening of dialogue. Everett talks with the energy and speed of an Aaron Sorkin character but minus the pretension. He likes to hear himself talk, though, and he likes to be in charge, and he’s often kind of a jerk.
I love the inversion that takes place here. The film opens with Everett as the dominant member of the duo, but as the night progresses, Fay asserts herself more and more. So much of this film resonates because it gets to the heart of whose voices get to be heard.
Everett is a kid, but he’s a white dude with a radio show so people listen to him and talk to him. Billy (the first caller) is black and tells Everett everyone involved in that secret project back in the day was either black or Mexican. He feels this was done because the public was less likely to believe an extraordinary story from non-whites. Mabel’s story is dismissed because she’s a single mom.I don’t want to talk about the ending, because it’s worth experiencing it on its own, but I will say it’s skillfully conceived and executed. THE VAST OF NIGHT is a modern version of a classic sci-fi tale. I dug it.