Slamdance Film Festival: ‘The Vast Of Night’ reviewed

❉ This 1950s New Mexico-set sci-fi movie is destined to find a big cult audience, writes Nick Clement.

The Vast of Night is one of those startling and mesmerizing calling-card debuts that announces an exciting and potentially prolific new cinematic voice, and with this 1950’s, New Mexico-set science-fiction drama, director Andrew Patterson and screenwriters James Montague and Craig W. Sanger have concocted a heady brew, a work that defies budgetary logic (the film was shot for a reported $600K), and reaches for the stars on a thematic level while still tapping into the human condition. Screening in the Narrative Features section at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, The Vast of Night has all of the hallmarks of a cult-classic waiting to be discovered, and is ripe for discovery by an adventurous distributor to take on the task of marketing this tricky yet satisfying motion picture.

Taking place over the course of one night, the inspired narrative hinges on a young switchboard operator (Sierra McCormick) and a radio DJ (Jake Horowitz), who both discover a mysterious radio frequency that has potentially life-altering implications. An unlikely friendship is born and it becomes a race against time to determine what’s taking over the town, if not the world. Showing a clear love for the Spielberg-Amblin years while resolutely serving as its own thing, Montague and Sanger’s beautifully parsed-out screenplay gets lots of creative mileage from the dawn-of-the-space-race milieu, creating a sense of audience expectation which is then slowly subverted through their bold story decisions.

From the ominous and affectionate opening that directly recalls The Twilight Zone, to the film’s cosmic denouncement, there are enough call-outs to demonstrate the filmmaker’s love for what’s come before, while still staying focused on their own creation. The whip-fast dialogue recalls Shane Carruth’s Primer, but laced with period-appropriate jargon, and is way more accessible to the ear.

As a director, Patterson gets a chance to show off his considerable aesthetic muscles, with a series of expertly choreographed long-takes that frequently boggle the mind, including a show-stopping sequence of camera trickery during a high-school basketball game that defies logic, and will put a smile on the most jaded of faces. But it’s not all about the razzle-dazzle for Patterson, as he shows an affinity for quiet moments, and literal fade to blacks, where the audience is forced to do some contextual lifting in order to move from scene to scene. He’s a true talent to look out for in the future.

Technically the film is immaculate, from the Fincher-esque, many-shades-of-brown color scheme favored by cinematographer M.I. Littin Menz, who boldly shot in 2.35:1 widescreen, and combined a nimble sense of movement while still valuing the benefit of a well-timed master shot. The ethereal score by Erick Alexander and Jared Blumer is in perfect tandem with Junius Tully’s smart and swift editing and Adam Dietrich’s evocative production design. Photo-real digital effects were employed to create a sense of true wonder; why can’t certain big-budget feature efforts showcase CGI-work as crisp and clean as was achieved here? The film is a constant visual treat while still tickling the intellect.

❉ Screened as part of the Narrative Features section at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival on 25 January 2018, ‘The Vast of Night’ stars Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, and Bruce Davis.Directed by Andrew Patterson and written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger. Visit the official Facebook page.

❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema and is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott.

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