THE VAST OF NIGHT Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace tunes in to a mysterious audio frequency.
There’s something about that period between the end of World War II and the Swinging Sixties that has remained enduring in science fiction. In America, it was a time of great optimism and great pride, as the colossus of Columbia bestrode the world as the only major economy on the planet that had weathered World War II and emerged better than it had as it entered that maelstrom. In this period, Britain and France saw an end to their great power status as they blundered, along with the Israelis, at Suez; their only rival was the Soviet Union, a country that was still rebuilding from the ravages of Barbarossa.

The science fiction of the time was optimistic and starry-eyed and full of wonder at the promise of science and technology. It made sense, coming from that star-spangled colossus, that the future would look bright; they had not yet seen the quagmire of Vietnam. It was an age of what Kim Stanley Robinson called “American-imperial Heinleinism,” after one of its greatest priests, and it has left its mark on the genre to this day.

It is sensible, then, that that period would be fodder for modern throwbacks to it, and this is where we get to The Vast of Night, an Amazon original film. It is set in a small town in New Mexico in the fifties, revolving around two high schooler ham radio buffs who end up contacting something from beyond this world. It’s a movie that is awash in signifiers from that period, imbued with that optimism that characterized an America that thought that its triumph in the recent World War was an ultimate vindication of its entire modus operandi (although it did not endure as long as was hoped - see the American healthcare system).

The Vast of Night is a film centered in no small part around youth. The characters are teenagers, and a lot of the plot is enabled by the fact that so much of the town is at a basketball game at the local high school. In this regard, it reminded me strongly of Stranger Things but set in the time that that show’s time romanticized as we now romanticize the eighties. Indeed, the whole setup feels Spielbergian, with the two children going up against both the supernatural and the American government.

One of the things I noticed as I watched this relatively short film was the consistent use of long shots with no cuts. In many cases, very long conversations will take place without any shift to a new shot. In some cases, the camera will move quite far without cutting as action takes place in different parts of the town. The result of such cinematography, directed by C. I. Littin-Menz, is that a very intimate, character-heavy story gains a sweeping, epic timbre that makes for something deeply compelling.

The plot is driven by the two main characters: Everett, played by Jake Horowitz, and Fay, played by Sierra McCormick. The two play off each other very well, almost foiling each other, with Everett the calm and collected one and Fay the bubblier one. They both, however, share that love for learning and for radio and for investigating whatever it is that local radio has unwittingly picked up.

I haven’t said much about the plot of The Vast of Night; that is deliberate as I do not want to give too much away. What I will say is that this film is well written, both in terms of dialogue and in terms of its broader structure. This is a film that I am honestly surprised has not been talked about more in internet SF circles, as it has both compelling characters and compelling filmmaking craft, be it cinematography or special effects or period charm. In writing this article, I hope I can begin that wider notoriety.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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