Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Mobile Camera and Staging Enlivens The Vast of Night

Stage plays adapted to film can appear static. Long scenes with people just sitting and talking can weary an audience. Thus, filmmakers will sometimes try to liven up events by breaking single location scenes into different locations, taking the characters outdoors for a walk as they continue talking. Or they'll have the camera roam for a bit, inserting a few brief action shots for an interlude to break the monotony of all that talk.

The Vast of Night (2019) is a talky film. Although its topic of alien abduction carries much potential for action, it has many long, static scenes of people just sitting and talking.

In one scene, Fay (Sierra McCormick) sits at switchboard for ten minutes, listening to the radio or talking to people over the phone. Ten minutes is a long time to focus on one person just sitting in tight quarters, talking or listening.

It can be interesting, if there's an engaging character in an intriguing situation. And Fay is engaging. But however good the scene is, it might be even better if things were livened up.

Director Andrew Patterson uses a mobile camera and staging (actors walking or driving about for long stretches) as active interludes between his long, static scenes. Breaking up things before stupor sets into the audience.

The Vast of Night opens with a long take, a mobile camera following Everett (Jake Horowitz) as he enters a high school gym, walking about, talking to several people, following a teacher downstairs to the basement, then up and out again, into the parking lot.

Patterson uses several long takes for this scene (some over two minutes in length) while a mobile camera instills a sense of anticipation and excitement. Thus the film is mostly a series of long, static scenes of people talking -- discussing aliens, government conspiracies, and lights in the sky -- interspersed with long interludes of the camera roaming about.

Sometimes Patterson's mobile camera follows people. But sometimes it appears to be seeking something. In which case, these mobile shots serve a secondary purpose.

At one point, the camera glides quickly over the dark streets of this small New Mexico town, nobody in sight. Because of 1, the story's context, and 2, no human is present, and 3, the camera moves faster than any human can run, it feels as if we're seeing events from the POV of unearthly being. An alien, perhaps? This appears not to be the case, but the feeling is there nonetheless. And it adds to the film's eeriness.


For more information on cinematography and staging in horror, see Horror Film Aesthetics: Creating the Visual Language of Fear. This blog represents a continuing discussion of my views on horror, picking up from where the book left off.