In “The Vast of Night,” Andrew Patterson’s filmmaking debut that fashions itself a mystery inspired by the paranoid wonder of 1950s-era sci-fi, the driving question isn’t so much “What the hell is going on?” so much as “How the hell do we find out what the hell is going on?”
Oh, and by “fashions itself,” I actually mean Patterson dives head-first into the genre playbook – with the eagerness of someone who stayed up into the wee hours of the morning watching “Twilight Zone” episodes and reading comic books with UFOs on the cover under the covers – for his pseudo-procedural about the seductive pull of the unknown, and in this case that vast unknown is two-fold: It is the strange happenings being investigated by our tireless protagonists, and it is also the new venture of moviemaking being undertaken by Patterson himself. In his debut, the director’s style stretches to the cosmos, but legitimate narrative tension remains mostly a specter.
Patterson and the movie’s writers – James Montague and Craig Sanger – lay their cards on the table early, playfully contextualizing “The Vast of Night” as an adventure unfolding on a retro TV program and making the joke that the movie could play between episodes of “The X-Files” before the audience is given the chance to say so. Over the next hour and a half, we’ll realize it simply makes sense that the overhead street lights look like flying saucers, that the setting shares the same state as Roswell, that there are eventual gasps of “something in the sky.” This town may be in for strange new encounters, but we have decades of pop culture to tune us into the staticky frequency of Patterson’s otherworldly interests —and he relies on that knowledge. Continue reading →