“You are entering the realm of the clandestine and forgotten. A split screen caught between channels.”
Set in 1950s New Mexico, The Vast of Night follows two teens as they uncover a secret frequency that reveals an otherworldly presence in their small town. On the night of Cayuga High School’s basketball game, Everett (Jake Horowitz) the local radio DJ who has a knack for technologies, meets up with Fay (Sierra McCormick), a switchboard operator. Fay asks Everett to teach her how to use a tape recorder. Fay hears a strange noise coming from one of the phone lines and she captures the sound on tape. When Everett plays it on the air, the two learn that something is amiss in their community. Billy (Bruce Davis), a retired military worker and Mabel (Gail Cronauer), a homebound widow, both reach out to Everett with their stories of secret military experiments and extraterrestrials. Everett and Fay are on the run to uncover the truth behind these stories and why the aliens are targeting their hometown.
Directed by Andrew Patterson and written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, The Vast of Night is a dialogue driven drama. Rapid-fire chatter mixed with slow, methodical storytelling drive the plot forward. Not much happens in the way of action and the story’s tension comes from increased paranoia and the uncovering of a supernatural mystery.
“The Vast of Night an exercise in people telling stories to each other. Drawing you in detail by detail.”
director Andrew Patterson
While the dialogue is key to the film, I found there to be too much of it. Cut away 25% of the chatter, especially in the beginning of the film, and I wouldn’t have felt like I was drowning in dialogue. The real appeal for me was the science fiction element with an emphasis on mid-20th century technology: radios, tape recorders, audio reels, switchboards, telephones, etc. There is also retrofuturistic vibe with the discussion of the year 2000 and “electronic highway control.” All the characters wear period appropriate clothing and vintage glasses. Some of the scenes are filtered through a blue-tinted television screen adding to the retro vibe. McCormick and Horowitz were convincing as the curious, technology loving and seemed plucked right out of the 1950s.
The Vast of Night will appeal to fans of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Twilight Zone. The heavy dialogue can be exhausting but if you have the patience to get through it you’ll be rewarded at the end.
The Vast of Night had its world premiere at Slamdance 25.
Director Rishi Chandna’s 13 minute short documentary Tungrus follows the story of the mild-mannered Bharde Family from Mumbai, India and their “chicken from hell.” The Bhardes live in a small apartment, a father, mother, two sons, daughter and their cats. Six months ago, the dad brought home a young chick he bought for 10 rupees. He thought to himself “this will be a great toy for my cats.” The chick grew up to be a fearless rooster, causing ruckus in the Bharde’s constrained living quarters. Leaping, scratching, attacking, flying and pooping everywhere, this rooster is one giant menace. Why have they put up with this rooster for so long and how long will this chaos last?
Tungrus is a funny, quirky yet sober doc that works on numerous levels. One of the reasons I was drawn to this film was its exploration of family. One decision made by the dad has repercussions on everyone. On the one hand, the Rooster becomes a central part of the family unit. I know what it’s like to have that one disruptive family member who causes utter chaos. You love them despite their craziness. It’s the unspoken bond family members have with each other. On the other hand, family is both a fixed construct and one can mold and change. You are stuck with your blood relatives but you can also build a new family and rid yourself of certain members who cause dysfunction. The Rooster becomes a central figure of the Bharde family but the toxic environment he creates causes the patriarch to make a decision about the Roster’s fate, bringing the story to its tragic climax.
“Tungrus is essentially a human story, because each character in the film must probe the nature of affection, of loyalty, and even the ethics of eating another creature.”
Tungrus is part of the Slamdance Documentary Shorts program and is part of The New York Times’ Op-Doc series. You can watch the film in its entirety on the NYT website.
Matty (Conor Siemer) is just an ordinary high school student. Like his fellow classmates in class, he acts out, challenges the faculty and puts on a show for his friends. When his chemistry teacher gives him a task, things go horribly awry as a fireball explodes in his face, sending him, in critical condition to the hospital. This is a catalyst for events that follow, as the authorities, the faculty, the parents and the students all try to make sense of this tragic event and come to terms with their own demons.
The Rainbow Experiment studies the way people react to trauma. The film is raw, powerful and experimental. The motley crew of characters, all connected to the protagonist Matty in some way directly or indirectly, range from the most level-headed to borderline insane. They employ defense mechanisms, placing and displacing blame. The movie breaks the fourth wall with Matty appearing as a somewhat ghostly figure, examining the events at the high school, while his still living body remains at the hospital, and relates his observations to the viewer. Inventive cuts and split screens help depict the divisiveness of the situation and the ensuing chaos. As the movie progresses and the characters try to make sense of what happened, it becomes less and less about the victim and more about everyone’s own struggles.
“People make choices and those choices affect other people.”
The Rainbow Experiment expertly explores the failure to communicate between adults and teens. The us against them mentality, evident on both sides, reaches a boiling point after this tragic event and the film deconstructs the ramifications of that toxic mindset. This film is bold, unsettling and should be required viewing. And for those of you who quit a movie at the very sight of the end credits, you’ll miss the inventive dual ending.
Written, directed and produced by Christina Kallas, The Rainbow Experiment premiered in January at the Slamdance Festival. I look forward to seeing more from this innovative filmmaker.
Gravitas Ventures is releasing The Rainbow Experiment in theaters, DVD and digital on December 7th.