The Vast of Night
29th May 2020 (Amazon Prime Premiere)
In the twilight of the 1950s, on one fateful night in New Mexico, young switchboard operator Fay and charismatic radio DJ Everett discover a strange audio frequency that could change their small town and the future forever.
Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer
Picture this if you will: a small New Mexico town. The 1950s. A clear night in an ordinary setting. The unsuspecting residents are attending a hotly contested high school basketball game. Young Switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and local radio host Everett (Jake Horowitz) leave early to begin their shifts. It starts off like any other evening. But over the course of the next few hours, their paths will once again intertwine over a strange sound being broadcast over the airwaves. Together, they investigate the origin of intrusive noise and discover startling revelations from some of the townsfolk who claim to know its source.
The Vast of Night requires you to listen. Probably even more so than it does for you to watch. It’s a film that focuses on radio and audio recording. Even more impressive, then, that you’ll find it hard to look away. It uses an uncommonly high number of static long takes and lengthy monologues to hold your attention. There are even times where the picture goes black, leaving only the audible contents of a phone call. Fortunately, script writing duo James Montague and Craig W. Sanger have cooked up an absorbing dialogue-driven tale shrouded in mystery that you’ll want to lean closer in to hear every word.
Despite its use of extended scenes of motionless camerawork, The Vast of Night isn’t without its visual flair – for better or worse. A mightily impressive one take sequence which takes us from Fay’s switchboard shack, through the town to the basketball game and finally to Everett’s radio station is effortlessly smooth. The whole picture is framed as if it was an episode of a show called Parallel Theatre, a Twilight Zone-style series too. Personally, I felt it didn’t need to keep reminding me of this by infrequently stylising shots as if they were being screened on a black-and-white TV. It took me out of the moment and slightly undoes the steadily increasing tension.
There are absolutely no complaints when it comes to The Vast of Night‘s casting choices though. It’s an exceedingly small list of key players, but they all make a huge impact. Sierra McCormick is simply wonderful as the excitable technology optimist Fay and Jake Horowitz is pleasantly irritating as the motormouth Record Jockey Everett. He’s kind of a jerk, with a know-it-all attitude. But Horowitz knows when to throw in a cheeky wink and smile to prevent him from being completely unlikable. Credit must also go to Gail Cronauer as elderly inhabitant Mabel, who relays her desperately sad life story to the pair.
It’s a little disappointing then that The Vast of Night switches up its ‘less is more’ approach for the finale and lifts the veil on its mystique. For me, it worked so much better when there were more implied themes and outcomes than definitive answers. Nevertheless, it remains a smart and captivating small-scale science fiction picture which would work just as well as a radio play.
The Vast of Night is now available to stream through Amazon Prime Video
Superb sound design and focus on listening rather than watching
Friendly chemistry of leads
Insistence of reminding that it's a 1950's TV Show episode
Definitive ending removes the mystique