Saint-Saëns: Septet Op. 65 for an Odd Combination of Instruments
Cormac McCarthy: The Road

The Vast of Night

This is a fairly low-budget sci-fi movie which as far as I know is available only on Amazon. Set in the late '50s in a small town in New Mexico, it's presented as an episode of a television show modeled on The Twilight Zone, complete with an introduction in Rod Serling's voice and prose style. I found it enchanting, so much so that I watched it a second time. It's basically a straightforward UFO story, in many ways typical: it could be an episode of The X-Files without Mulder and Scully, but it's done with such skill and atmosphere that it gives new life to what have become the conventions of UFO mythology.

Hidden in plain sight in the title and in a few sentences spoken by one character is a twist on the nature of the visitors which distinguishes it from other specimens of the genre. I did not recognize the title, but its oddness--one would expect "vastness," not "vast"--caused me to search it out. Because searching for the phrase alone only returned references to the movies, I needed something else. Figuring it was a quotation, I added "Shakespeare," and there it was. (I was going to try Milton next if that didn't work.) It's from The Tempest. Prospero is cursing Caliban with troubled sleep:

Shall, for that vast of night that they may work,
All exercise on thee...

According to the notes in my Riverside Shakespeare, "urchins" are goblins in the shape of hedgehogs, and "vast" is to be understood as a noun meaning "void" or "waste." I'll leave further explanation of the twist for you to discover if you take my recommendation; if you don't, you won't care.

The main characters are two high-school students, one trying hard to be a fast-talking '50s-hip disc jockey, the other a studious girl who subscribes to Popular Science or something of its sort. And they're charming. If the trailer appeals to you, you'll probably like it, too.

I have to say that I was a little disappointed in the ending. But if you are going to end such a story, there are really only a few ways in which you can do it, and the journey to it is so rewarding that I can't complain very loudly.  


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Looking forward to watching this, maybe on the weekend.

Currently watching a four-parter from Iceland called 'The Cliff.' I'm halfway through and so far it's got a slight touch of the supernatural/s.f. to it, but I'm not to the point where I can determine if it's a red herring or not.

I'll be interested in hearing what you think of it.

I don't see an Icelandic series called The Cliff on either Netflix or Amazon. There's one set in Dallas, presumably not made by Icelanders.

It's on Amazon Prime, but it might be on the PBS channel, which I got a free temporary subscription to. The Icelandic title is 'Hamarinn.'

Did you mean to say "not" on Amazon Prime? I can't find it there, either as "The Cliff" or "Hamarrin."

Hamarinn is also up on the Dailymotion site:

I thought that was a YouTube kind of site. But then YouTube has lots of full movies and stuff.

No, it is on Amazon Prime under the PBS 'subchannel' or whatever it is (I don't know the lingo).

Oh, I see, that's Amazon acting as a sort of distributor, running channels for various services that may require a separate subscription, like HBO and BritBox. I subscribe to BritBox, and to get to it, to actually watch it, I go to Amazon on Roku. But those titles (e.g. Vera) don't show up when I search Amazon Prime's listings on the web. That's why The Cliff wasn't showing up. I have to go to a "channels" submenu to see BritBox titles. Similarly, there's a PBS channel, and I do see The Cliff there. Which probably means that I can watch it.

I see -- I wasn't exactly sure how that all worked and didn't realize that shows or movies like that wouldn't show up in a search. I've got one episode left, which I'll most likely watch tonight, and give you the rundown tomorrow.

I see on IMDB that there is a second series of four episodes called "The Lava Fields" but I haven't checked yet to see if that's available. And the 2nd season of "Hidden" (the Welsh series) has just shown up.

Did I watch Hidden?....I can't remember. That's pretty bad. I've seen so many crime dramas in recent months and years that they tend to run together. I know I watched a Welsh series called 35 Days, which is pretty good but not outstanding.

The 3rd and final season of Dark (the German time-travel thing) will be on Netflix sometime soon. I wrote about it here a while back:

The end of the second series took a turn which I didn't like. Without going into detail, I thought it was cheating on the premise. But I will watch the new one.

Also, I notice in the comments on that post a mention of Marcella. The third series of that just came out, too, and I'm not sure I want to watch it. The trailer makes it look pretty intense in a way I dislike: Marcella goes undercover among dangerous people. Just a personal quirk of mine but that kind of scenario, where someone is having to pretend to be someone else and is in constant danger of discovery with very bad consequences, is always fraught with such tension and anxiety that I find it very uncomfortable to watch.

I literally can't understand it, even with the subtitles.


Dark or Marcella?

Dark, I guess, since it's in German? But I always watch British shows with subtitles, too.

Vast of Night. They talk so fast, I can't keep up with the subtitles.


I don't think you watched 'Hidden', as I myself just watched it last month and you hadn't heard of it at the time. It's the Welsh one that we talked about that was on Acorn, I believe. It was excellent -- quite different from your typical UK mystery/thriller.

I finished 'The Cliff' last night, and I'd call it good but not great, mainly because I felt that the ending was a bit of a let-down. Worth watching, though, as it's not a huge time commitment -- four 1 hr. episodes. And the Icelandic scenery is beautiful.

I haven't checked yet to see if I can get it via PBS. Re Hidden, my nifty new search feature enabled me to find where you'd mentioned it.

Janet, yes, that was a bit of a problem for me in a few places, too. Mainly with the DJ, and it was partly because he says some odd things, hipsterisms of the day along the lines of "see you later, alligator" but not that clear or obvious. I don't know whether they had really been unearthed from the '50s or invented for the film. Can't remember any examples now.

Finally watched The Vast of Night last night and I agree wholeheartedly with your take. Other than a couple points where I felt it lagged a little because it got too talky, I thought it was very good -- quite a debut for the director and cinematographer especially. I had to watch it on my laptop, but I'd like to see it on a bigger screen at some point, so I'll probably rewatch it when it hits DVD.

I didn't get the twist you mention, although I must say I didn't re-read your post until after I watched it, so I wasn't looking for it. Which is probably a good thing, because if I'd been looking for it I might have paid less attention to other aspects of the movie.

Anyways, I'm grateful for your post about it because I may not have come across it otherwise.

I'm very glad to hear that you liked it! I recommended it on Facebook in a group of local people who share opinions on movies and tv, and iirc the only person who said they gave it a try didn't like it.

I'll go ahead and explain what I meant about the "twist", which may not be a good word for it. You may well have gotten it because it's not really hidden, just easy to overlook. I called it a twist because this differs from most alien-arrival stories in that the aliens are not benevolent but not bent on conquest or destruction, either. It's explained by the woman to whom the youngsters are directed for information about the aliens: that they have the ability to influence the minds of earthlings and do so for the purpose of stirring up trouble, seemingly for its own sake, and may be responsible for a lot of human strife. They're like Prospero's "urchins." I can't remember now exactly what she says but she mentions that "they seem to like this place."

Yes, I did notice that, and at first it did not register as a twist. But in hindsight I see what you mean.

What comes to mind, although again I didn't consciously note it at the time, is the idea of the malevolent but not really invasive beings that appear in 'The Mothman Prophecies.' While not an entirely successful film, it is interesting in its posing the question of whether the "mothmen" are aliens or demons, or some sort of combination of the two. In 'Vast of Night' the visitors are definitely aliens, but if what the old woman tells the teens is true, then they are aliens who act like demons -- Prospero's urchins.

Don't know if you've ever seen 'Mothman...' but it's worth a watch. It's fabulously creepy, for one thing, like a good X-Files episode, and philosophically interesting, but unfortunately it descends somewhat into standard thriller territory towards the end, which I found disappointing.

Much of it was filmed in and around Pittsburgh, and a friend of mine, local actor Tim Hartman, appears in a couple scenes as the sound tech to whom Richard Gere's character brings the recording of the Mothman for analysis. Tim said he had a couple moderately long conversations with Gere, and found him to be a nice enough guy, friendly, but somewhat distant.

I would expect celebrities to be somewhat distant around people in that kind of situation.

I was told that on Dylan's tours most of the hired hands--security people and such--are required to turn their backs and not look at him when getting on and off buses, walking to dressing rooms, etc. Alas, that's believable.

No, I haven't seen Mothman. Sounds interesting.

Tim also had a bit part in The Silence of the Lambs. He said that Jodi Foster was very distant and businesslike while Anthony Hopkins couldn't have been nicer. The latter actually walked around town between shoots, stopped and talked to people who recognized him, went into stores to buy things, etc., and acted just like a regular visitor to the city.

By the way, Tim was inadvertently responsible for a continuity error in Silence... The scene he's in is the one where the FBI agents accompany the female senator to the airport to talk to Lecter. Tim plays one of the agents, and he wanted to make himself stand out a little so he decided to have a piece of gum in his mouth. Well, during one of the cuts Jonathan Demme noticed it and told him to lose the gum, which he did. So in the movie, you see this FBI agent chewing gum behind the senator, cut to Lecter, who says something to the senator, then cut back to her and the agent is no longer chewing gum. It's silly but it's kind of fun knowing the story behind it.

Well now I have to go watch that scene in Silence of the Lambs, Rob!
Speaking of Dylan, Mac. A little bird told me that you have listened to the new album, so will you now write a review for Light on Dark Water?

Eventually. I’m pretty much occupied with hurricane aftermath for the time being. No electricity, only very very limited internet access. I don’t know if this will actually be posted or not.

Sorry Mac, hope that everything gets back to normal soon!

Yes, me too -- absolutely!

Just finished series 1 of The Cliff. It showed up as a recommendation on Amazon Prime, sounded interesting, so we started watching it. Then I got to thinking it had been discussed here. I agree with Rob--good, not great. I was quite vexed, though, to find that I have to subscribe to the PBS service to see series 2. Don't know if series 1 being offered for free was a teaser or a glitch.

I never watched season 2 of The Cliff, but I have the impression it didn't get as positive of reviews as the first season.

I've watched the first two "Worrickers" and liked them very much. Definitely in the Le Carre vein, but not as dark or cynical. It's not really a series, but a trilogy of made-for-TV films, each running about an hour and 45 minutes.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)