The Vast of Night – 1950s suburban technological sci-fi fun

I watched The Vast of Night on Amazon Prime this weekend, and what a fun film it was. The Radio Survivor blog mentioned it and the core components sounded like they’d be up my street: a low-budget lightly sci-fi tale set in 1950s small town America with a backdrop of local radio and telephone switchboards. Lovely.

It’s altogether really just very silly, but presented very seriously. From the snappy opening scene, I felt invited into the world of this little town as the local high school geared up for a basketball game. The way the two leads chatted away about tape recorders and radio voices and broadcasting and interviews had a lovely realism to it, especially with the camera milling around them as they walked-and-talked. Actually, one flaw with the film is that this pair’s relationship never really develops beyond both being witness to a strange event. It would have been nice – though maybe somewhat cliched – to see some more chemistry between them.

I digress. The film’s world feels very believable, and there is nice attention to detail in the technology both used and discussed, along with some enjoyable “gee, shucks” moments of discussing (probably accurate) 1950s descriptions of what life might be like in the year two thousand.

On top of that, the film features some really surprisingly exquisite camerawork and cinematography. For starters there’s a lovely misty murkiness about the whole thing, with nice lighting and lens flare and so on. Characters and extras are given room to breathe as the camera weaves in and around their very natural movements. At times there are some fantastic sequences of either very long one-shot takes, or really nice Steadicam-esque sequences that seem almost too ambitious for what is a silly little b-movie.

And silly it is: the story is a bit one-dimensional, and some of the longer dialogue scenes could do with some tightening up. I saw one review which suggested this would make a good radioplay or podcast, which made me chuckle given the subject matter. But actually I get that, and I can see that too. In fact, I occasionally felt like it would make a half-decent narrative-based point-and-click/walking simulator videogame like Firewatch and others.

But if it had merely been an audio-based production, the audience would have lacked the rather lovely set design, props and costumes/hair/make-up which all come together to paint a very well-fleshed-out and yet not too overly-ambitious world. It’s nice to sink into the world of 1950s excitement about new technologies and a feeling that anything could be out there…

It was a fun little romp and I felt refreshed having watched it.