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Film / The Vast of Night

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There's something in the sky.
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The Vast of Night is a microbudget science fiction thriller film and the directorial debut of Andrew Patterson. The film is presented as an episode of a science fiction anthology series along the lines of The Twilight Zone (1959) or The Outer Limits (1963), and tells the story of two high school audiophiles in a small New Mexico town in The '50s who pick up a mysterious frequency of unknown origin.

The film screened at the Slamdance Film Festival and 2019 and was picked up by Amazon Studios later that year. It was eventually released on Amazon Prime in May 2020, while also showing at various drive-in theaters.


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The Vast of Tropes:

  • The '50s: The movie is set sometime in this decade, and great care is put into capturing the aesthetics of the era as well as possible.
  • Agent Scully: Everett makes it abundantly clear that he doubts any sort of claims about aliens or UFOs, but he does still intend to get to the bottom of whatever is going on.
  • Alien Abduction: Fay and Everett interview an old woman who claims her son was abducted years earlier. By the end, Everett and Fay may have been taken as well, if not outright vaporized.
  • Arc Words: "There's something in the sky!"
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Fay calls to check in with her cousin, the phone cuts off. She and Everett run over to check and find Fay's baby sister, who the cousin was supposed to be babysitting, alone and crying. Turns out nothing is wrong. Her cousin just snuck out to make time with her boyfriend, like a typical irresponsible teen.
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  • Based on a True Story: Based on actual reports or accounts, at least. Patterson said he used the Kecksburg incident and the Foss Lake disappearances, although those turned out to be solved as tragic car accidents. Both stories were covered on Unsolved Mysteries.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Fay and Everett's quest to get to the bottom of the mystery ultimately gets them abducted or vaporized by aliens.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The film takes place in the 1950s and examines events from the 1940s. Billy states that the dangerous military detail he was given was reserved for Black and Latino soldiers. He delays revealing the fact that he's black to Everett. Everett responds by saying that he suspected as much, which would be considered rather impolite in modern times.
    • Nothing is made of Everett flirting with Fay despite him being several years her senior.
  • Downer Ending: Judging by the mound of ash that remains in their place, Fay, Everett, and Maddie (the baby) were abducted or vaporized by aliens for discovering them.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: There is a very lengthy tracking shot that goes all the way from Fay's switchboard to the high school basketball game.
  • Framing Device: The film is presented as an episode of an old sci-fi anthology series called Paradox Theater, and the beginning of the movie is depicted with an outdated aspect ratio and some fuzzy picture quality for good measure. It quickly transitions into a more modern filmmaking style, but it occasionally switches back to the television framing.
  • Ghost Town: The town might at first appear to be mostly abandoned. It is soon revealed that everyone is at the high school watching an important basketball game. (You can still see this phenomenon in small rural towns; the whole place seems to shut down, going completely dark except for the high school gymnasium or football field.)
  • It Will Never Catch On: Fay relates reading three articles in a science magazine predicting future technology. The first describes what amounts to satellite navigation and self-driving cars, which it claims will be the only way to drive by 1990. The second describes cell phones. The third predicts that people will travel long distances in tubes, which obviously has not come to pass. Everette is amused by each prediction.
  • The Oner: There are several over the course of the movie, sometimes playing out a whole scene in a single take. Two notable instances are a 9-minute-long take of Fay trying to find out what the noise is on the switchboard, immediately followed by an Epic Tracking Shot through the town to the basketball game, then to Everett in the radio station.
  • Politically Correct History: Played With. Vast of Night depicts the public perception of 1950's Americana as reality. While the fashion, cars and technology is accurate the politics are not. To wit, Everett is encouraging of Fay's interest in science and pushes for her to go to college when she seems hesitant. This sentiment while unremarkable today would have been more unusual in small town America during the 50's, a time which was obsessed with recapturing the traditional values and social purity of the Victorian Era.
    • Furthermore, Fay's hesitance to go to college is more based around money and her position as breadwinner in the family. In the 1950s a lot of colleges were still unisex, and those that were co-ed still discouraged or straight-up barred women from their STEM majors. It wouldn't be impossible for her to go to college, but sexism would be a significant hurdle. (Working as an operator wouldn't have been seen as the same thing, even though it's working with technology, because it was viewed as an unskilled job suitable for young women before they got married.)
    • Also Everett uses the term Black nonchalantly and Billy refers to himself as Black, at the time Black was a slur and no-one in the 1950's would call someone Black un-insultingly.
    • Inverted in it's setting. The movie strives from an Anytown America feel, but is set in New Mexico a state that has always had a large Hispanic population. This was especially pronounced in smaller towns which were often entirely Hispanic and bilingualism was a fact of life throughout the state until the 1960's. Still the cast and everyone mentioned, save Billy, are Non-Hispanic White. Even if they are supposed to be White Hispanic, in the 1950's the vast majority of Hispanics in New Mexico were were ether monolingual in Spanish or primarily spoke Spanish at home. The only mention of Spanish at all is when the old lady identifies the Signal as not-Spanish.
    • What makes this trope played with is it is deliberately invoking 1950's sci-fi, which often depicted a homogeneous and monochromatic America that was inherently perfect in it's ways until attacked by some evil outside force.
  • Running Gag:
    • Fay sprinting off toward her next destination, even when Everett has his car handy.
    • The story about the squirrel getting killed by chewing though a wire and shorting out the school's electricity.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Everett is several years older than Fay but spends on awful lot of time with her, and there seems to be a mutual attraction. However, they never overtly express interest in each other, and they both discuss moving to larger cities to follow their careers.
  • WPUN: Appropriately for the film's plot, the radio station's call letters are WOTW, initials for The War of the Worlds.

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