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Josh Reviews The Vast of Night

April 1st, 2021

In a small New Mexico town in the 1950’s, on a night in which most of the town is gathered in the local gymnasium for a basketball game, the young switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick), and her friend, local radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz ), hear a mysterious sound that they come to believe is extra-terrestrial.  In the time it takes for the basketball game to be played, Fay and DJ find themselves drawn into a tense adventure, as they seek to uncover the truth of what’s been happening in their town.

I was completely blown away by this film!  (I listed it as one of my favorite films of 2020!!)  First-time filmmaker Andrew Patterson has exploded onto the scene with this wonderful sci-fi drama.   Mr. Patterson also co-wrote the film (under the pseudonym James Montague), along with Craig W. Sanger.

The film was made for a tiny budget (less than a million dollars), and it is beautifully simple, featuring a very small cast.  But Mr. Patterson and his team have stretched their resources with incredible skill to create a wonderfully fully-realized film that feels much larger than it actually is.  This is a completely professional-looking, polished piece of work.  If you’d told me this was made for $50 million for a studio, I’d have believed you.

Mr. Patterson’s camera-work and technical virtuosity is impressive.  The film is structured around a series of lengthy takes that are visually stunning and that also do a terrific job at ratcheting up the tension.  Time after time, I found myself giddy with delight as I realized that I was watching what looked like an extremely lengthy, uncut take.  The film opens with a jaw-dropping sequence in which we watch DJ walk through the packed school gymnasium, as the basketball game is about to begin, moving throughout the crowd and jumping in and out of various conversations.  I was astounded watching this sequence unfold, as I started to realized we hadn’t yet seen a cut.  It’s a bold announcement of the film’s ambitions, and things only get more impressive from there.  In particular, there’s one tracking shot that moves through a huge stretch of the town that absolutely blew me away.  (I’m sure there was some hidden editing in that shot and some of those others, but I was looking carefully and, if they were there, the edits were flawlessly hidden.)

The film’s two young stars, Ms. McCormick (who plays Fay) and Mr. Horowitz (who plays DJ), rise to the challenge of having to perform in these long, theater-like takes.  There’s one especially stunning sequence in which Ms. McCormick performs a lengthy sequence, all alone, while she’s working the switchboard; I had a huge grin on my face by the time they finally cut.  Both Ms. McCormick and Mr. Horowitz deliver compelling and very memorable performances.  I loved the way the film allows us to slowly get to know these characters as the story unfolds.  They’re archetypes, sure, but fully realized ones.

There are really no other main characters in the film besides Fay and DJ.  The film belongs to those two actors and their characters.  There are only two other characters of note, each of whom get a terrific monologue.  First off there is the never-seen Bruce Davis who plays Billy, the man who calls into DJ’s radio show to tell an incredible story of his experiences in a classified military project.  It’s an incredible vocal performance, holding me gripped even though I never saw his face.  Also terrific is Gail Cronauer as Mabel Blanche, who describes to Fay and DJ late in the film how she believes that a terrifying experience she had decades ago holds the secret to the mysterious sound they have been hearing.  Ms. Cronauer is absolutely marvelous, holding the film in her hands for many long minutes as she unfolds her tale.

I was delighted by pretty much every minute of this film.  I highly recommend it.  I am always excited by an original sci-fi idea, and it’s a pleasure to see this group of unknown artists spin gold out of straw with this bold, audacious movie made on a minuscule budget.  I’m so glad The Vast of Night is available on Amazon for all to see.  Give it a try.

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