The Vast Of Night (2019): I Want You To Take Me To The Ship...
By: Hooman Razavi
What if we take the time capsule back to 1950 America and zoom into a derelict rural community? Could we expect to find a unique story? The Vast of Night, directed by Andrew Patterson, released by Amazon Studios, is a mystery & suspense, fantasy science fiction that makes this scenario possible. The two protagonists, Fay (Sierra McCormick) and Everett (Jack Horowitz), both encounter a mysterious radio signal from outer space, the vast of night, and this leads them to seek answers and fill their curiosities.
From a formal perspective, static shots, jump-cuts, camera movements, and use of both diegetic and non-diegetic sounds are the features. In the first scene where Fay discovers about the strange noise, almost ten minutes static shot captures her full emotional response. After, there is a parallel scene in which Everett decodes the messages. These couple scenes reinforce the main themes of mystery, ethical journalism, and truth-seeking. The last use of this technique is seen when the camera gets fixated on Marble, the old lady who calls them to reveal the secret. These static shots are countered by the use of jump-shots in many other scenes that aptly showed the tension and uncertainties of the situation and origin of these noises. The camera movement is strategic and dominating. The use of Steadicam and close up shots in different plot points help the audience to get to know the night, its atmosphere, and the suspense around the characters and their psychological states. The characterization, costume, and setting reconstructions are decently realistic and capture the ethos of the time. Lastly, the main character and source of mystery in the film “sound” are well-integrated especially non-diegetic sounds that elicit the state of fear and suspense, and diegetic sounds heard in all scenes related to radio recording and studio.
The film has a self-reflexive quality. Right from the opening scene, it seems that television and radio are storage gadgets that serve audience memories and harbor the secret information. We are thrown into the setting of small-town Texas of 1950-1960. All of a sudden, the two main characters, Fay and Everett, are introduced and move the drama till the end. The dialogue mostly reveals the plot and social circumstances, albeit at a calibrated pace. The social layers of the society of the time are peeled and exposed promptly too. We happen to understand the prejudice implicitly against the Indians, Black and other social challenges such as college affordability issues and the loneliness and indifference towards the community's elders. Moreover, a slice of American rural town culture to attend games, family time, and the humor are portrayed decently as well. The film also provides a dose of prophecy too; in Fay’s words and the article she has read, i-pads and cellular phones are more than her figments of imaginations. Last but not least, as an audience, we are misled to search for the unknown in the sky, even though all the events take place in a time-bound manner (one night) in the same planet of Earth (under the sky). The final scene brings some closure and reveals the source of the mystery, but questions remains of what is inside the UFO spaceship, and what do they do there?
The other subtext to consider is the role of communication in its varying format and how the film conveys this message. On the one hand, the mise-en-scene is full of gadgets that have to do with recording, transmission, and information-sharing, while it seems there is a difficulty in how the characters communicate with one another. For instance, despite knowing each other, Fay and Everett seem to have difficulty understanding one another at a time, though it gets better over time. Billy- the first caller who reveals part of the secret had for a long time no communication venue to reveal his deep secret about the mysterious noise. Likewise, Marble seems to harbor a secret, one that has stayed in her chest for a long time. Once again, it seems that the out-worldly source of mystery is eventually resolved-UFO scene, but the deeper problem is earthly, which can signify a more existential and social problem for the characters.
The Vast of Night captures a simple story, a fascination with the out-worldly and the inability to comprehend it. This aspect is not unique. What makes the film stand on its own is the strong story-telling, convincing acting, and proper integration of form to help narrate that story. As an audience, we may still wonder about the nature of the baby noise, military noise, Marble, and Billy's unfinished stories, but we can sympathize and understand the mentality of characters that lived in that era and its zeitgeist.
Amazon Studios will release THE VAST OF NIGHT on Prime Video May 29th, 2020