THE VAST OF NIGHT: A Minimalist Must-See

“You are entering a world between clandestine and forgotten.”

When we think of science fiction, the impulse is to look ahead into a dazzling future. Strange planets and zipping starships take up a lot of space in the popular imagination, when it comes to the genre, and have for some time. The Vast of Night does things a little differently. It takes a dialed back and arresting approach to science fiction by taking it out of the fantastical and grounding all the possibility in a simpler time. This strategy makes for a refreshing and innovative film that still leans heavily on the most important ingredient in good science fiction: boundless imagination.

The Vast of Night is written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger and directed by Andrew Patterson, making his directorial debut. The film stars Sierra McCormickJake HorowitzGail Cronauer, and Bruce Davis. 

THE VAST OF NIGHT: A Minimalist Must-See
The Vast of Night (2019) – source: Amazon Prime Video

On a strange and quiet night in 1950s New Mexico, The Vast of Night tells the story of a charismatic local radio DJ and a young switchboard operator who discover something truly bizarre coming in over the radio waves. An otherwordly audio frequency could mean the impossible in their small town and the pair must strike out to find the truth.  But they may discover more than they bargained for in The Vast of Night.

Giving Fresh Perspective Through the Retro

One of the most appealing aspects of The Vast of Night is its commitment to the retro roots of science fiction. This theme is present in the setting, styling, and storytelling in the film, and the combination of those elements makes for an incredibly refreshing watch. The film feels like a time capsule, capturing the 1950s beautifully on film. The Vast of Night could easily earn the privilege of your time on costuming and styling alone.

The retro setting lends more to the film than mere aesthetics. The 1950s represents a moment in American, and world, history when space was completely out of reach and at the forefront of our imagination. Pop culture of the 50s and 60s speculated on the universe beyond our stars and the “Space Race” was well underway. Thinking about science fiction through this lens really allows us to take a step back and put our current expectations of science fiction into perspective.

THE VAST OF NIGHT: A Minimalist Must-See
The Vast of Night (2019) – source: Amazon Prime Video

All of the possibilities and imagination that we see reflected in current sci-fi movies would have gone beyond anything they may have dreamed of in the 50s. The Vast of Night is able to simultaneously pay homage to the pioneers of science fiction in media and tap into that feeling of mystery, fear, and the vast unknown. As a science fiction lover, it gives me an appreciation of how far we’ve come in the genre.

Less Really is More

There is nothing pretentious, maximalist, or “extra” about The Vast of Night. If there was ever an illustration of the “less is more” concept, this would be it. As mentioned previously, the setting of The Vast of Night lends itself to very straightforward and linear plot execution, with no flash, trash, or fuss.

THE VAST OF NIGHT: A Minimalist Must-See
The Vast of Night (2019) – source: Amazon Prime Video

The 1950s small-town setting keeps the story elegantly contained and focused. The same can be said for the small, but effective cast. The Vast of Night is carried off by elegant minimalism, simplicity, and a laser focus on tension and suspense building. Any good storyteller knows that there is no script trick or special effect that can match up to the human imagination. The Vast of Night knows just how much to show and offers titillating peeks into the mystery, enough to keep you hooked but sparse enough that your own anxiety conjures spine-tingling possibilities. Well done.

All The Essential Ingredients

Don’t get me wrong, there is so much more to The Vast of Night than what we don’t see. This film would not work if it did not have all the essential ingredients for stellar filmmaking. The cinematography of The Vast of Night is slick and gorgeous, a work of film craftsmanship. The performances of the small cast are absolutely fabulous and it’s already so exciting to imagine the career ahead of this ensemble. Lastly, the use of practical effects and ingenious shots are an absolute treat for the viewer. Once again that retro charm is played to maximum effect.

The Vast of Night is the final word in science fiction. Full of innovation and imagination, it plays to the corners of the human mind that dare to dream and recoil from what we fear. Gives you the chills for all the right reasons!

What’s your favorite science fiction film? Let us know in the comments!


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