The Vast of Night
The Vast of Night takes a big gamble in both visual style and storytelling structure, and it hits the jackpot. This close look at a small town’s flirtation with the unknown shows how small stories can have big rewards.
Taking place in 1950s New Mexico, The Vast of Night takes its time in getting to the big story. The film is initially shown on an era accurate television, as a part of the Twilight Zone approximation Paradox Theater. In the small community of Cuyoga, the whole town is gearing up for a big high school basketball game. As the camera switches from television broadcast to the film itself, we begin to follow Everett (Jake Horowitz) as he makes his way through the gymnasium, summoned to help with an electrical problem. Everett is a radio man, and is not quite sure why he has been sent for, but he humors them as they wind their way through the halls and spaces of the building. As soon as he arrives, the error is realized, and he starts to make his way back toward his on-air time for the night.
Along the way, he runs into a young acquaintance, Faye (Sierra McCormick). She has just gotten a reel-to-reel recorder and wants to see what the resident audio expert can do to help her figure out her new gadget. As the two walk through the parking lot, past the arriving townsfolk, their lightning fast and screwball-esque dialogue moves as quickly as their feet.
These scenes are not necessarily single shots, but they’re presented in real time, with the impression of fluidity in the actions. We follow these two characters for the rest of the night, and their night is about to get interesting.
Faye picks up an odd noise on her switchboard, after finally getting to work a little late. The noise is intriguing enough that she reaches out to Everett over at the radio station to see if he knows what’s going on. I’ll avoid any possible spoilers, as the film descends into a plot worthy of its Twilight Zone reference, but the way the story is told deserves high praise.
The Vast of Night unfolds mostly in specific relation to one of the main characters. Long stretches of the film focus on Faye, as she calls Everett, or Everett as he speaks to a caller on the air. A lesser director or less gifted actors might have turned this hyper-focused structure into a tedious bore, but The Vast of Night is riveting. I hung on every single word and couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen for a moment. While both McCormick and Horowitz rise to the demands of such scrutiny, they’re somehow eclipsed by a powerful monologue from Gail Cronauer. Every performance is spot-on and they all carry the already stellar writing.
Every film festival leaves me with a movie that will stick me for years to come, and I can already tell that I will not soon stop thinking about The Vast of Night.