The Vast of Night, Andrew Patterson's first feature as a director and one of the most transparent "look what I can do! Hire me for a Star Wars!" efforts to get this high-profile of a release in ages, is like an episode of The Twilight Zone. In case you miss this (which you would not do), the film helpfully nudges you in that direction by opening as a literal episode of a quasi-Twilight Zone program called Paradox Theater, played on an ancient-looking television in fuzzy black and white with thick scan lines rolling up the tube. The intro to Paradox Theater, and the film, consists of Mark Silverman (the guy who dubs Rod  Serling's voice whenever it needs to be mimicked, e.g. in the Disney theme park ride The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or the 2019 Twilight Zone reboot) reciting a cryptic introduction that feels like somebody had a thesaurus in one hand and the opening of the actual Twilght Zone in the other. This expressly frames The Vast of Night in terms of the kind of story that showed up on '50s or '60s science fiction television anthologies (the actual movie feels more like The Outer Limits, notwithstanding the Serling-ness of it all), and just in case we lose track of that fact, from time to time the film cuts back to showing how it would look on the old tube TV, maybe for the length of a shot, maybe a little more.

I have no idea why it does any of this. It would be just as adequate as a quick, in-and-out little blast of midcentury sci-fi storytelling without belaboring the game it's playing. It's certainly not like the film is even remotely interesting in paying homage to the style of The Twilight Zone: the first shot of the movie proper is literally the only one that meaningfully evokes '50s TV norms, after which it shifts into muffled digital cinematography (it feels a little bit like they purposefully left the raw footage mostly uncorrected to give it a kind of soft, hazy look) in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio that Patterson and cinematographer Miguel I. Littin-Menz are dreadfully ill-equipped to deal with. Especially given what a huge amount of the film is single close-ups - there is one particular long take that's a static close-up lasting for a full 10% of the 91-minute film's running time, and it's just a yawning void of visual disinterest, with Sierra McCormick's head trapped on one side of the frame and a telephone switchboard on the other, and just nothing, literally nothing going as she just listens and listens. It's basically like watching a still image as you're listening to a radio drama - another form that The Vast of Night openly nods to, between its in-jokey homage to War of the Worlds, and its habit of cutting to a completely black screen so we can only listen to people talk, though I think it does this less often than it cuts to the tube TV. It's annoyingly precious either way.

Anyway, these are all symptoms of just how aggressively "first movie" The Vast of Night is, and I will say this, nobody can deny that Patterson shows promise. This is an extraordinarily ambitious movie, taking a $700,000 and trying to do something genuinely amazing and fresh for the genre. It is fearless filmmaking, and God damn me for all time if I ever told a filmmaker to shorten up their reach to keep it in line with their grasp. Patterson is going for it so hard. He's not getting it - not even close. But not for want of boldness. The film's storytelling strategies are just plain bizarre, using short bursts of top-speed prattle between its teenaged protagonists, disc jockey Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz) and switchboard operator Fay Crocker (McCormick), as the glue between sequences where all of the meat of the narrative is pushed out in the form of massive expository monologues (the narrative, incidentally, is an investigation into what caused a mysterious noise heard throughout the small town of Cayuga, New Mexico. The film consists of roughly 75 minutes of pretending we don't know it has something to do with aliens). And there's more than a little bit of budget management to this - putting the camera in McCormick's face as she listens to someone talking over the phone is a lot easier and cheaper than actually staging an interaction - but there's still real bravery in having so much confidence in one's script as to willing to subject the viewer to that kind of anti-cinema.

And it almost pays off - the monologues are long, and frankly not that interesting, but there's something soothing in the rhythm they create. The frantic interstitial moments are generally not nearly as good, mostly because Patterson is encouraging Horowitz and McCormick - especially McCormick - to deliver their dialogue at top speed, 100% of the time. I cannot explain why. Nothing about '50s TV nor radio plays would at all suggest this as a natural choice; this is the realm of '30s newspaper comedies, not science fiction of any stripe or any era. It's a little exhausting to listen to, especially when it comes as a contrast to the glacial pace of monologue scenes.

On the other hand, it's one of these in-between scenes where The Vast of Night pulls out its single most showy demonstration of Patterson's talent, a ridiculously long tracking shot at a ridiculously low height that zooms through the entire town of Whitney, Texas, which served as the film's backlot, including movement in and then back out of a school gymnasium during a basketball game. It's bravura filmmaking of the most energetic kind, and while it feels more like something to do because it's cool than because it really contributed anything - well, it is cool, and it took a lot of hard work, and one of the main things The Vast of Night is doing is making sure we appreciate all of the hard work that went into making it.

Speaking for myself, I find very little of this satisfying, and with a running time that you could almost fit four complete Twilight Zone episodes into, it's hard to justify why the film takes so long to get to the point near the end where Everett and Fay actually do anything, rather than just listen to people talking. But the ending works, despite being a little bit of a cliché with a bit more artful ambiguity than it knows what to do with. And there's simply no gainsaying the ambition, or the creativity in the problem solving. Whether it adds up to a movie worth watching... eh. I know a lot of people have been terrifically excited by this, and it's extremely easy to want to root for Patterson, but honestly, I just don't find it interesting.