Knowing the little bit I do about the budget and constraints of The Vast of Night, and then seeing what appears on the screen, it’s a little difficult to properly assess the movie, because it does so very much with that apparently limited budget that it doesn’t feel like it warrants a pass for some of its missteps.
But let’s lead with the positive: this movie looks great to me. I’m not exactly a technical film genius; I know that in Chris Stuckmann’s review, he notes that the color-grading in some scenes isn’t what it could be. That sort of thing largely escapes me, so I’d have to take the word of people with a better eye for it. What doesn’t escape me is when a film looks amateurish to one degree or another. The Vast of Night doesn’t look like amateur-hour at all. I wish I could’ve seen it in a theater. I plan to rewatch with my VR headset in the near future, in Amazon’s theater-replicating environment.
The acting is also great across the board. All strong links, no weak ones, this chain is in no danger of breaking. Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz are most of the show and up to the task, but the few significant supporting roles are deftly acted as well, particularly by storytellers played by Bruce Davis and Gail Cronauer. The dialogue is fun and sharp, funny without being jokey, and eerie when a monologue demands it.
Even the film’s very, very sparingly used special effects are impressive.
All of which makes me disinclined to grade it on a curve, something I’ve seen from many other reviewers and fans.
I liked the movie, but wanted it to be better. Felt it should have been better. I understand that there were limitations, but an inability to add any visual component to the aforementioned eerie monologues stands out to me. I can’t imagine that filmmakers this imaginative couldn’t picture a better way to at least partially tell these stories as motion pictures. It’s not that they were lazy or uninspired, I think that they just didn’t make the best decision.
For instance, there is a “scene” in which a man (unseen, speaking to a DJ) telling his story of a potential encounter with mysterious, otherworldly technology fades entirely to black. It gives the moment an “old time radio” vibe, and as a guy who listens to a lot of golden-age radio horror stories, I can dig it. For a little while. What you think will last maybe ten or fifteen seconds, though, goes on for 25-seconds instead. Okay, an extra ten seconds, no big deal. Still not a bad idea, still a fairly memorable moment and worth exploring.
But then a very short while later they do the same thing again, only this time it goes on for 60-whole-damn-seconds. On paper, a minute of absolutely nothing appearing on screen might not sound like much, but even in a sleepier, more restrained sci-fi thriller, it’s an eon.
Later, we meet an old woman with another unsettling story to tell, and she at least appears on screen for the duration, but it’s quite a duration. Ten minutes of pure telling of a story where it seems a couple of short flashbacks, even with the scene blurred to reuse actors if you couldn’t afford any others, could have spiced things up and kept them visually engaging in this visual medium.
This is a movie with a fun, there-for-no-reason tracking shot that takes us from one side of town to another, after all. It’s set up as though it’s an elongated episode of a classic, Outer Limits style television show. It’s not as if it was made by people who didn’t recognize the appeal of visuals, particularly in a movie like this. It’s just that in a few crucial moments, they elected to eschew even the slightest visual panache, and I can’t say I didn’t find those parts a little disappointing because of it.
Final Verdict: Well, I did say I plan to re-watch it, didn’t I? Despite the moments I didn’t care for, I’m still being drawn back to it, so it obviously proved more effective than not.