You’ve got to give Amazon credit for being willing to try new things, even if they don’t always land the way they should. For example, the new film Vast of Night is an attempt at a slow horror involving aliens and 1950s New Mexico. Switchboard operator (Fay) and radio DJ (Everett) hear a strange signal coming through the phone lines, and while investigating come across people who have stories to tell of otherworldly encounters.
I’m not much of an artsy person when it comes to movies–give me Bruce Willis in an air duct over ‘meaningful’ and ‘deep’ any day of the week. But you’ve got to give Amazon credit here–the dialogue is well done, and some of the shots are excellent. The long shot through the town by itself makes the movie worthwhile. Even better, the film is framed as an old-time TV thriller (think Twilight Zone) and uses an antique television in black and white to introduce the various movements. And again, the dialogue is clever and flows smoothly. The problem is, the film relies too much on dialogue and mood and not enough on action. I know that it’s more period-accurate to watch Everett and Fay fumble with their 1950s recorders, but I don’t think I’m just being a spoiled child of the 21st century when I say that there can be too much fumbling in a movie. The same is true of dialogue. A little witty banter can establish that Everett is suave and Fay is smart, but too much misses opportunities for action and forward motion in the film. And what the heck is the deal with stealing the kid’s trombone, anyway? He gets it back (we see him playing it the next time they show the gym), but what was the point of that?
And I know all of this is vague, but I really don’t want to give what little plot there is away. I will say (spoiler alert) that we’re not left hanging as to whether or not there are aliens in the sky over New Mexico. Which in some ways is why this movie is unsatisfying. Yes, we get a resolution–but what little slow-build up we get still leaves us with a “that’s it?” feeling at the end.
Nevertheless this movie is worth watching. It’s always fun to join C.S. Lewis in asking ‘what-if?’ about aliens, and our American history of fascination with UFOs just amplifies the fun. At times these kinds of books and movies can be useful as comparisons to Christianity interacting with the secular culture (the weight of personal experiences and testimony compared to skeptical logic, for example), and The Vast of Night is no exception. It brings its own twist to a genre that is frankly due for a contemporary reboot. The fact that this film avoids being a gritty reboot just makes it more worthwhile, even if it could have used an explosion or two to spice things up at times.