The film opens in a room straight out of the 1950s and it’s filled with colour, as we watch a small tv that begins its black and white broadcast. It’s a program that has opening narration akin to The Twilight Zone, or Outer Limits or any science fiction based anthology show from the same time period. The program was called Paradox Theatre, and tonight’s episode was The Vast of Night. Using this as a framing device set up the film perfectly and told me exactly what type of film I was about to watch, but it didn’t tell me it would become my favourite movie of the festival.
The film follows our two leads Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick) in the fictional town of Cayuga. While everyone in the small town (with a population of nearly 500 people) is either sleeping, babysitting or working as a radio DJ or switchboard operator, the rest is found in the school gym for the first basketball game in the season. As everyone gets seated in the bleachers, Everett and Fay are on their ways to their respective jobs.
There’s a shot that everyone will be talking about for a long time, and it’s a shot that perfectly showcases the geography of the town. A scene that caused clapping and deserved every second of it. The camera weaves in and out of backyards and parking lots and someone who loves long takes and tracking shots, I loved it. There were two scenes that were also dedicated to the lost art of working in analog, which is a bit ironic when the film was shot digitally with a 16mm filter applied to it. But watching these actors string the tape or work the switchboard was absolutely mesmerizing.
While the visuals are a standout for sure, the two things you’ll walk out the film talking about are the script and the actors who performed in it. There is so much dialogue that Jake and Sierra worked through, and sold every moment of it. Whether it’s the opening where they are interviewing bystanders at the game, or Everett at almost any point of the film. It’s the type of snappy quick dialogue every dialogue wishes they can pull off – and few can. But it’s also Bruce Davis as Billy, a caller who portrays so much emotion as only a voice actor. Or Gail Cronauer who conquers a monologue and makes it look second nature.
Due to the strong script, the film could work wonders as a radio play (just like its influences of War of the Worlds) and there’s a part of the film where they cut the visuals and leave us listening to a story being told in complete darkness. And the audience leans in anticipating every word.
The Vast of Night is a film that uses genre and its framing device to its full extent and gives us a very intriguing, fascinating, and most importantly, captivating just solely off of the dialogue and the actors. A few hours before the screening, Amazon Studios bought the film. And I couldn’t be happier, because now I’m aware I will for sure be able to see the film again and marvel at every word spoken.