The Vast of Night (2019)
May 30, 2020 7:50 PM - Subscribe

In the twilight of the 1950s, on one fateful night in New Mexico, a young switchboard operator Fay and charismatic radio DJ Everett discover a strange audio frequency that could change their small town and the future forever.
posted by fiercekitten (24 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The Vast of Night is streaming in the US via Amazon Prime.
posted by Etrigan at 8:49 PM on May 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

I just finished this. I loved the look, the editing, and long shots. That first sequence was a bit much, with the rapid-fire Aaron Sorkin-ish overlapping dialog and 50s slang; but I figured it had to calm down at some point. And it did. A LOT. Yikes. The two scenes with the guy calling in to the radio station and the old woman giving her monologue seemed to comprise about half the movie. I stopped paying attention during both scenes, and then when I realized I wasn't paying attention, I was amazed that those people were still talking. I was very relieved when it was over.

The UFO was neat.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:59 PM on May 30, 2020

Just finished watching it, and it lives up to the hype. The story is familiar, the setting is familiar, and there’s no stunning twist, but it’s a gripping tale anchored by great performances told with bravura mastery of both audio and visuals. There are a few times that the director made choices that called attention to themselves, but only because they were so fascinating and effective. Super well done.
posted by ejs at 9:02 PM on May 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

It's very impressive for a first-time film from a self-trained (!) director, and the leads are ridiculously charming.

But when it was all over I felt the ultimately rather thin story let it down. There are no stakes beyond “can we find out what’s going on?” It felt like at any time they could just give up and go home without losing anything. Not that I would want it to be another cookie cutter Save The Cat plot, but forcing the characters to have a little skin in the game would’ve been nice.

But mostly I was disappointed in the copout ambiguous ending. I was really taken with these characters and I was invested in what happened to them! I get the whole movie was an homage to Twilight Zone-like narratives, but the vague ending still felt cheap and undercooked to me.

(Speaking of the Twilight Zone, I thought the framing device was unnecessary and even distracting.)

Jesus, it sounds like I really hated it, but my criticism aside I was incredibly impressed by the film and heartily recommend it to science fiction fans. If you haven’t seen it yet, ignore me and fire it up. It’s definitely worth your 90 minutes.
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:43 AM on May 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

The radio station's callsign is WOTW. War of the Worlds?
We watched this last night, then went outside and watched the ISS fly overhead with a space capsule close behind.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 1:24 PM on May 31, 2020 [5 favorites]

I believe so, yes. Also the town of Cayuga was surely named after Rod Serling's production company.
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:41 PM on May 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

I enjoyed it quite a bit. It feels a little like a show reel to sell the director's abilities to the studios but it's a fun and quick 90 minutes and he really is an impressive talent.
posted by octothorpe at 8:40 PM on May 31, 2020 [6 favorites]

This mostly felt like an extra-long episode of something like The Outer Limits or the Twilight Zone, but it was really quite well-made and I found it engrossing. I liked the retro feel, and the way it really built the setting, both with that kinetic, impressive long shot, and with the geography of the town and its people in general. In general, it did a lot with a little.
posted by yasaman at 10:10 PM on June 1, 2020

The seemingly random trombone-appropriation gag has a delightful payoff.
posted by hototogisu at 10:50 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I got about 1/4 way through but it just didn't engage me at all and I bailed. I was bored. sounds like people think its worth a watch? does it just take a bit to get going? or maybe its just not for me...
posted by supermedusa at 11:25 AM on June 2, 2020

It’s like a perfect-looking burrito or turkey sandwich or something you already know you will love, but with some particularly advanced but unexpected salsa or condiment that makes you go “damn, did not expect that level of deliciousness, as after all, this is just a burrito or a turkey sandwich.”

Did you make it to the first switchboard scene?
posted by hototogisu at 1:43 PM on June 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

My wife and I watched it this past weekend. We liked it well enough but both thought it was a bit thin plot wise. We also though that it really could of worked just as well as a podcast/radio play since most of it was just watching people talk and/or listen to someone else talk. Still as a first try it was well shot and I liked the look and feel of the small town.
posted by Captain_Science at 6:48 AM on June 3, 2020

I enjoyed the naturalistic dialogue in the hang-out portions of this, a little Altmanesque and I liked the accents (though they sounded a lot closer to Tennessee or something than New Mexico, and I got pretty confused about where exactly Cayuga was supposed to be located). Overall I agree it could have used a bit more plot and the TV episode framing seemed more distracting than useful.

For some reason the version I watched via Prime in 4K HDR seemed like a really crappy film transfer or something, it all looked super washed-out and the blacks were more like mid-grays.
posted by whir at 2:46 PM on June 4, 2020

Seconding the general enjoyment of this but I was also unpersuaded by the framing device and in particular the periodic reintroduction of it in a way that seemed to add nothing (and indeed detract from) the scenes in question.

But rather like Quentin Tarantino, Patterson seems to have a knack for writing and filming scenes that last several times longer than they ought to be able to without losing the viewer's attention.
posted by Major Clanger at 5:38 AM on June 9, 2020

I really like this. The small-town, night photography was immersive and authentic feeling. Loved how 1950s was integrated into the plot in a natural, but interesting way.

Also, bold move going to a totally black screen for a while as Billy told his story over phone.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 10:59 AM on June 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

I watched this at the suggestion of a friend. It's totally great. Totally confident with itself even though there's no budget.
posted by Catblack at 10:50 AM on June 10, 2020

I feel like everyone in this thread is correct in that both it is a beautifully told story, but ultimately there's not much there, and it's unsatisfying. My SO couldn't believe how the ending was shaping up, rejected the idea that credits were about to roll, and I said, "I don't think there's going to be a twenty minute stinger that contains the rest of the plot and the denouement."

But I did like the characters. I don't know if the town felt like anywhere near the border with Mexico, but it reminded me of small town Kansas, and small town lives. For awhile it felt authentic enough, but also incredibly fresh. I admired the actors' confidence with a switchboard and a reel-to-reel. I liked what I was seeing and I wanted more; I wanted it to do more and mean more.

It put me in mind of Ad Astra, in that when critics praise the directing of this I can totally see it. This movie has a 92% critics and 62% audience and both of those scores seem correct. Whereas with Ad Astra the critics are out of their gourds.
posted by fleacircus at 11:16 PM on June 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

It doesn't bother me that the story is thin. Typically, SF is plot-heavy at the expense of everything else and this is the inverse —everything else is really good. I agree with what Soderbergh said.

I watched the long switchboard scene several times. It was a working switchboard that the actor learned to use, and it shows. I'm a big believer that a huge portion of the verisimilitude allowing for the suspension of disbelief is attention to such detail. We may not consciously register it, but it matters. That the director didn't lampshade it is even better.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:46 AM on June 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

I think the term "plot" is used a bit reductively on this site sometimes, as something one labels someone else's criticism with for easy processing. What I'm talking about is more a matter of things seeming like a fully developed idea, or feeling like, is there actually ninety minutes of movie here? Is what's going on on the screen right now meaningful or interesting?

And, anyway, this movie does have stories. We get Bill's story, which was good; we get Mabel's story, which wasn't so good. It cries out for a third story of Fay and Everett but it's too much Fay running around and 9t feels like there just weren't any more ideas there. It feels like it's flailing around not sure what to actually do or be. To me, at least.
posted by fleacircus at 3:31 PM on June 15, 2020

Man there's some amazing mood and feeling creation, I loved the darker outdoor shots, really bright the small town feeling through. I will say it felt a lot like a hangout movie to be, this plot but that's ok because I liked Fay and Everett and their interaction. One of my favorite moments was when Fay tells her friends to stop smiling that she's out with the radio boy, just such a cute moment.
posted by Carillon at 5:02 PM on June 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

I was blown away by the beautiful and powerful mood building - both the visuals and sound design.

I love the scene of Billy telling his story. That and the long tracking shot are two incredible movie sequences that I can't recall seeing before in quite that way.

The movie does a solid job of showing the sexism that constrained women in the 50s, and naming the way racism structured society.

At the end I did feel.. not disapointed but.. Well when the screen went black I just said, "Why? Why is this movie?!"

To be a real Twilight Zone episode it would have had a twist. And so it wasn't that. And there was no big metaphor that I could read. So what was this for? So in the end I did feel there was a lack of substance, but that's a bit too strong, because the building of the story does have it's own innate value.

It's definitely sticking with me: the sound, the images, the feel. Really special that way.
posted by latkes at 9:43 PM on December 27, 2020

Just watched it with my 14 year old daughter, and we both really liked it, but I can see how other people would be bored. If you tell me "this movie is 95% conversations," I am all about that, but it's not going to work for everyone. I think I'm going to watch it again just to make a list of slang phrases I want to start slipping into conversations.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:13 PM on December 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Really enjoyed the feel of this and the leads were excellent. I was totally wrapped up in the stories they heard and the long quiet takes.

If you were sucked in by the mood and the subject matter, can I recommend the podcast Welcome to Night Vale? It’s a nighttime radio host in a small desert town telling you the news, but where all manner of the paranormal is real. Very akin to The Vast of Night.

...featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff's Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.

Turn on your radio and hide.

posted by brism at 9:22 PM on January 16, 2021

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