At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Vast of Night “2019”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Vast of Night “2019”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Sci-Fi Mystery/Stars: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis, Greg Peyton, Mark Banik/Runtime: 91 minutes

If there is one thing that has always amazed me when it came to the land of movie magic, it would have to be without question the amount of creativity that can be displayed by the crew of a slice of cinema when working with an extremely limited budget. Perhaps this is why I have always had such a deep respect for such movies as the original Halloween, The Blair Witch Project, the original Friday the 13th, Napoleon Dynamite, and even the first Mad Max movie among others that come to my mind. Yes, the level of overall quality for each of those films is definitely different (especially where Blair Witch is concerned). At the same time however, you can’t deny that the low budget proved to not be as big of a hindrance as it might have first appeared to be. Rather, it instead managed to help the crew brilliantly tap into their inherent creativity and resourcefulness on these films in such a way that had a bigger budget been part of the equation from the start we might sadly have never gotten to see this reservoir of ingenuity come out and play thus denying us as viewers the chance to see true magic at work in this most distinct of art forms. The reason I bring this up to you dear reader is because the film I have the pleasure of reviewing for you today, 2019’s The Vast of Night, is one that definitely fits into this category as well. Indeed here is a film that, much like those others I mentioned, was operating with a low budget (in this case 700,000 dollars), but has managed to take that amount and utilize every single penny of it to make for us a slice of cinema that is unlike any I have seen in at the very least the past 5 years without question. To be sure, there are some issues with this film that do take away from it just a wee bit. Even with that in mind however, there is no denying that, with the aid of top-tier work both behind and in front of the camera, The Vast of Night is more than just a gripping film from beginning to end. Rather, it is also a loving throwback to both a long-ago era as well as the kind of television shows I loved when I was growing up (X-Files, the original Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits etc.) to say nothing of a bonafide showcase. Not just for a pair of exciting new talents to the acting community, but for a helmer who has managed to do something truly incredible and hit the cinematic equivalent of a home run his very first time up at the plate.

The plot is as follows: Getting underway like it too is an episode of the aforementioned first run of The Twilight Zone or a show of a similar vein, our slice of cinema gets underway in a small town in New Mexico in that long-ago era known as the 1950s. It is in this time and place where we are quickly introduced to our pair of main characters who take the form of a young woman named Fay and her slightly older friend Everett as they make their way from the big high school basketball game to their respective lines of work as a switchboard operator and disc jockey for the town radio station WOTW (not a coincidence incidentally) respectively. Yet just as the pair are beginning to settle in for what looks like will be yet another typical run of the mill night at their places of employment we see that this is quickly thrown quite the distinct curveball. A curveball that arrives in the form of a rather unusual signal that Fay picks up on whilst in the process of listening to Everett’s broadcast. Yet even though the majority of the town’s populace is currently at the big basketball game (1950s small town priorities people), we see that our dynamic duo decide to take the signal, play it on the air, and invite any locals who might be listening to call in and see if they can provide any clues as to what exactly this signal is supposed to be. By doing so however, we see that our pair are choosing to do more than just take a solid minute or 5 of airtime that could easily have gone to the latest record from Elvis, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, or even The Crickets. Rather, they are also (even if they don’t realize it) taking the first steps on a rather distinct odyssey. One that, by the time it is over, will have taken them both by the hand and led them head-on into a mystery that is more immersive to say nothing of complex than the two could ever imagine whilst also placing them on a path that, upon reaching the end of it, could have the very real potential to change their lives forever. As for what this signal turns out to be, what our pair of heroes are able to learn about it, and what they find waiting for them at the end of this journey that is something that I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader……

Now right off I guess I should point out that whilst this particular slice of cinema might not be in possession of what most (if not all) movie goers would really consider to be a fully novel plot as compared to other films in its particular genre, this is one that still manages to distinguish itself admirably through every component that goes into bringing it vividly to life. This starts with the work done behind the camera which, in a word, is downright magnificent. For starters, this slice of cinema might not have had the biggest budget in the world, but there is no denying the skill on display here by the film’s cinematography department right down to making this feel less like a movie made in 2019 and more like a feature length episode of the original Twilight Zone especially in terms of the color scheme that it is operating with. On top of that, we see that the work done with the camera is also a bonafide masterclass as well with perhaps the best example of this being a genuinely riveting ten-minute scene where we see Fay listening in on Everett’s broadcast, handling some quite unnerving calls, and then slowly but surely beginning to comprehend that something rather….unusual is occurring in the area. We also see that this slice of cinema does a fantastic job at, from the costumes and vehicles being utilized all the way to “futuristic technological innovations” being discussed by the two main characters, really selling us as viewers on this slice of cinema genuinely taking place in the era in which it is supposedly set rather than just merely doing enough to at best try and get by and at worst appear convincing only to have a character pull out a cell phone or start drinking a latte from Starbucks halfway through. Along with these elements however, we are also treated to a wonderfully penned screenplay from a pair of writers named James Montague and Craig W. Sanger respectively. Yes, the screenplay does to an extent violate the common rule for a slice of cinema like this known as “show more, tell less” due to the presence of quite a bit of expositional dialogue throughout the runtime courtesy of an on-air caller to Everett’s show and people that our heroes interact with who add more layers to the mystery which is afoot, but truth be told dear reader there is just something so riveting about how these distinct moments are shot that you can’t help but find yourself riveted by what is being regaled to our heroes. Finally, I would definitely be amiss if I didn’t take some time in this section of the review to mention the electrifying work done on this slice of cinema’s musical accompaniment from new kids on the block Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer respectively. Indeed not only does their score fit the rest of the movie to a t, but it also manages to do an incredible job throughout at elevating the already suspenseful mood/tone of the film perfectly. Suffice it to say then that the work done behind the camera on this film not only is top-tier in every sense of the word, but it also helps immensely in conveying the very Spielbergian sense of wonder and awe that this film is aiming to showcase for us.

Of course, the other element that definitely helps this slice of cinema succeed on the level that it is aspiring to attain would without question have to be courtesy of the work done by the gifted cast of performers in front of the camera. This starts with the work done by our two leads who are downright terrific. Not just when they share the screen Mulder and Scully style, but also in their screentime apart as well. Indeed, in the role of Fay, we see that Sierra McCormick does a great job at giving us a young woman who is a wonderful mix of dedicated, passionate, and budding engineer all rolled into one. Meanwhile, in the role of Everett, we see that Jake Horowitz does just as terrific of a job at playing this guy whose mouth might go a mile-a-minute, but who also definitely has a charm and smoothness to him as well (even if he could do with perhaps just saying no to a cigarette every once in a while). Besides the genuinely magnetic work done here by our engaging dynamic duo however, we see that the film has also backed them up admirably with wonderful efforts from a game support cast. This starts with a, voice-over only, turn from Bruce Davis as a former member of the military who decides to call in to Everett’s broadcast with vital information about the signal that I shan’t spoil for you here. Indeed Davis manages to take a role that could easily have been an extremely cliché part in the proceedings or, even worse, a total snooze-fest and instead infuses it beautifully with such degrees of gripping as well as captivating that you can’t help but, much like Everett, be enthralled by the man’s story. Along with Davis, we see that this slice of cinema also contains a memorable support turn from character actress Gail Cronauer in the role of a slightly older woman that Everett and Fay go to interview by the name of Mabel Blanche. Indeed in a lot of other films like this one, this character would most assuredly belong under the cliché not so affectionately labeled “the dotty older woman that no one in the town takes seriously, but maybe really ought to”. Fortunately, this film is by no means like those others and that is especially apparent in how it handles this character. I say that because Cronauer does such a magnetic and arresting job with the fairly heartbreaking at times monologue that this film provides her character that you really will find yourself wishing that she is in more of the movie than the 15-20 minutes of screentime tops that she ultimately is given. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in commendable efforts from talent such as Greg Peyton and Mark Banik to name but a few, there is no denying that the work done by the cast of players in front of the camera is nothing short of terrific with each and every one of them bringing their individual A-game to the film no matter how big or small their amount of screentime may be.

All in all and at the end of the day, is The Vast of Night a perfect slice of cinema by any stretch of the imagination? Honestly that’s a big negative on that one Ghost Rider, but points for effort though. On the other hand, does that mean that this is a genuinely terrible slice of cinema devoid of anything worthy of even the teeniest tiniest bit of praise? I definitely would not say that’s the case either. To be sure, this may have been overlooked at the time of its release, but this is easily one of the better under the radar gems from the past 10 years that I have had the pleasure of seeing in some time. No, this slice of cinema is by no means flawless as not only will the, admittedly quite lengthy, amount of dialogue present in this drive some people away who want more action to their sci-fi cinematic experience and there are at the very least a couple of plot points in this that do seem more than just a tad bit on the contrived side. With that in mind though, the technical work done behind the camera is (especially given this slice of cinema’s 700,000 dollar budget) nothing short of downright incredible whilst the work done in front of the camera by this slice of cinema’s talented, albeit by no means name-recognizable, cast of players does its part to both lure us into the world of the film to say nothing of the mystery at the heart of it and then leave us, much like our two main characters, determined to see just where in the world this whole thing is going to wind up. Above all though, The Vast of Night is more than just a lovingly made cinematic tribute to shows such as The X-Files and the first itineration of The Twilight Zone to say nothing of 50s sci-fi cinema in general. Rather, it is also fantastic proof of the power of imagination and the strength of creativity that can still be present in that distinct art form known as cinema, but only if it is given the chance to flourish instead of being pushed aside. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Vast of Night “2019” a solid 4 out of 5.