To complain that the “trailer gives too much away” is obvious to the point of cliché, but some filmmakers, who usually have nothing to do with the marketing, are beginning to speak out. The director of Vivarium, the suburban satire starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, told his Twitter followers that the trailer for his movie “shows A LOT, so I recommend not watching it or any trailers and just going in cold,” while Rian Johnson “fully endorse[d] avoiding everything” related to Star Wars: The Last Jedi before it came out in December 2017. But Andrew Patterson can’t do that. His name alone won’t sell a movie, especially one with no recognizable actors, but after having seen his directorial debut The Vast of Night (out now), maybe his name should sell a movie.
Here’s what you should know about The Vast of Night: it’s good, at times very good.
End of the review. You don’t have to read anymore. Enjoy the rest of your week, stay safe. But if you wish to continue, because you’re one of those people who is interested in the, ugh, plot, I’ll make this as spoiler-free as possible: The Vast of Night takes place over one 1950s night in New Mexico; it follows switchboard operator Fay (played by the remarkable Sierra McCormick) and know-it-all radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) while the rest of the small town is at a basketball game; stuff happens. It’s a fun, genre-heavy, impressively acted, darkly-but-beautifully lit throwback that starts slow, but once you realize what going on, things begins to click like an old-fashioned remote control.
McCormick and Horowitz give splendidly lived-in performances, and writers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger are aware that you will likely figure out what’s happening before the characters do (hint: the radio call sign is “WOTW”), but the real MVP is Patterson. I was surprised to discover that The Vast of Night is the only credit on his IMDb — no other movies, TV gigs, music videos, nothing. “[With The Vast of Night], I think we have a pretty good feel for how to make something look good, even if even if we were still learning how to do 90 minutes worth,” he told io9. “Look good” is an understatement — this is a micro-budget indie that looks like tens of millions of bucks; one scene, in particular, is going to get Patterson’s numerous job offers. You’ll know it when you see it. But it’s not a show-off camera trick. His direction is precise, purposeful.
One of the film’s best scenes involves Fay hearing a strange noise come through the phone lines, and later the radio signal. It’s a “frequency caught between logic and myth,” as a Rod Serling-like voice puts it. (The Twilight Zone reference is not unintentional.) She gets in touch with Everett, who tells her to call back in 10 minutes. From there, we watch Fay work the switchboard for (nearly) 10 full minutes in an unbroken take, as her — and our — sense of unease begins to grow. It’s not flashy, but it’s captivating nonetheless, recalling both the eeriness of The X-Files and the detailed obsessiveness of Zodiac.
The Vast of Night isn’t interested in uncovering the mysteries of the universe, or anything like that; its ambitions are more modest. But you get the sense that Patterson, as well as Montague and Sanger and gifted cinematographer Miguel Ioann Littin Menz, were listening to the real Rod Serling when he said, “You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.” The Vast of Night doesn’t take place in another dimension, but it’s a journey nonetheless. One that’s worth taking.
Amazon Prime will release ‘The Vast of Night’ on May 29.