The Vast of Night is Retro (a Review)

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This COVID-19 new normal has really changed up so much. One of those is the increase in on-demand movies. Movies that were supposed to go to theaters but now are streamed to us. This is good for many who never liked going to the theater but I find it difficult to prioritize. This movie is a prime example. I wanted to watch it but it’s hard to make room when I also am watching different shows to also write about. Ether way I finally carved out time now.

This Amazon Prime original movie fashions itself as a 50s era science fiction TV serial episode, a la The Outer Limits or Twilight Zone, and follows a radio DJ, Everett, and high school student Fay on the night of the first high school basketball game of the season in New Mexico. During the radio broadcast Fay hears and strange signal. Using her connections as a switch board operator and Everett’s audience as a night time radio host they piece together the mystery of what’s going on just as strange objects begin to appear in the sky.

The film has a really great sense of style, geography, and snappy character writing. The film feels authentic at many points to its origins as a TV episode of the era but updated in some key ways. One of those being the dialogue. It’s all very snappy, quick, and has a strong rhythm that allows for the characters to feel like they have a strong chemistry and history that extends before the movie begins. It’s also used well to establish who they are as people.

Additionally, the smooth use of tracking shots, pans, stills, subtle use of quick cut editing, and sparce shaky cam gives the movie this strong flow and the town of Cayuga a strong geography. The constant walking allows the audience to create a strong mental map that helps build the scale of the movie out.

The issues this movie has arises from how simple and conversation heavy it is. There are many scenes that are static shots of a character talking, or listening to a story, that as compelling as it might be feels like it is wasting the medium of film. That, on top of the heavy use of sound creates an interesting narrative but is hard to sell when the camera is fixated on a character’s reactions or lack-thereof. None of this is really bad, but feels more like it’s trying to be an old radio serial or podcast.

The one choice that flat out does not work are the random and constant shifts to showing the framing device. The screen will change to look like a 50s era TV monitor for periods of time. It might be trying to reinforce the time period, but it often ends up making the style feel cheap in the high contrast colors.

The ending is also very open and not nearly as character driven as many of the shows they are looking at. Twilight Zone in particular was usually more about a character’s reaction to the scenario they found themselves in and the effects of that on them as a person over just weird events that happen to them. This makes it feel off, but doesn’t take away from how compelling the mystery was before that.

There was a hot minute there when Cloverfield was going to be the answer to creating a label for low budget, high quality written, science fiction stories. Then it ended up that only one of those films was actually good and quickly evaporated (remember that one they just pooped onto Netflix years ago?). However this film and its framing device as being part of Paradox Theater could be the new answer to that idea. This film has the chops to start it off as a pretty good, if rough first attempt. Thank goodness the acting, set design, and style help save the weak writing in places.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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