The Vast of Night
A film review
While a solid first outing for a director, The Vast of Night, from Andrew Patterson never seems to find its footing. It knows what it wants to do, but the elements chosen to accomplish this goal sort of contradict themselves and it all ends up feeling like a weird failure of a film experiment more than an arresting story as a whole.
Mostly, it's the way this movie is directed. Again, I get what they wanted to do here, and as a concept it is interesting. But a movie has to be engaging on a cinematic level. It's clear that this was meant to be a radio show type story set inside a visual form. It's a War of the Worlds type story blended with elements of Close Encounters, and the story is always TOLD to the viewer via dialogue, rather than SHOWN to the viewer. As such, even when the camera follows characters for long tracking shots, there's always dialogue and a story being told.
This idea of having characters move the story forward by telling it to us via actual stories set in their dialogue is unique, but it fails at a basic level. Even though for the most part the stories being told are captivating, it's hard to make it visually compelling when the director's idea for this is to just sit a static shot with the camera focused on someone sitting in a chair, or sitting at a phone operator board, or sitting in a radio broadcast booth. For ten minutes. It kind of defeats the purpose of a film choice as a medium.
In the radio booth section, there at least is an interesting technique of having some sections of the dialogue occur over a screen that goes black intermittently. That had a cool effect on the story being told. But this is the only time it happens.
Another odd directorial choice was to frame the story as if it's a Twilight Zone episode being seen on an old TV. Again, this would have been a cool framing, if it actually tied into the content of the story at all. The story itself does not have much of a Twilight Zone vibe. For some reason, the director chooses to keep referencing the old TV set, pulling us out of the action by showing scene clips as if they're on the old TV, before going back to standard viewing.
As far as the story itself, I found it fairly predictable. I liked certain aspects of it. The idea of keeping the prospect of what was happening in the town solely in the imagination of the viewer (until the end) was interesting, but again didn't do enough to engage me, because the content itself was all sort of generic. Choosing to showcase the older technology for a modern audience was cool, but did we really have to repeatedly see how clunky it was, showing us multiple times the annoyance of rewinding and stopping tape on reel to reels?
At the end of the day, it was a decent outing, but a film riddled with rookie mistakes, and one that could have been refined and honed into a more cohesive vision.