Current Issue #488

Film Review:
The Vigil

Writer/director Keith Thomas’ feature début is a creepy, specifically Jewish-themed horror thriller that uses a restricted budget and location for near-maximum eeriness.

Toplining a finely understated performance from the prolific but unfamiliar Dave Davis, it’s a study of faith and its loss, and although there’s an effective jump-scare or two, the tone is mostly pensive and unsettling.

Yakov Ronen (Davis) has turned his back on the religious community of Brooklyn’s Hassidic ‘Boro’ Park, and as he’s introduced taking part in a trauma support group, we know that something terrible has happened. Yakov is approached by rabbi Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig) and asked, at length, to be a ‘shomer’, an important (and in this instance paid) position where he will ‘sit the vigil’ for the night and watch over a recently-deceased local.

Yakov is informed that the elderly man was a Holocaust survivor and reassured that the widow, Mrs. Litvak (Lynn Cohen), will probably sleep all night, so he starts out listening to music, searching online for tips on how to talk to women, and dozing. However, he’s rudely awoken, and finds himself gradually aware that he’s being persecuted by a malevolent spirit that’s taking advantage of his guilt and remorse, in much the same way that the demon in The Exorcist tormented the similarly emotionally-devastated Father Karras.

Modern technology plays a major part here, and it sits rather uneasily with the old, Orthodox ways: Yakov’s mobile phone is used to record something sinister as he sleeps; Mrs. Litvak somehow tries to communicate a warning message from an old video; and there’s a wonderfully simple and freaky trick involving call-waiting, which terrifies our doubting hero.

And, like the best horror stories, this is less about the lurking dybbuk (look it up) and the supernatural horrors it brings, and more about our fears and frailties. And the pain that not only lingers in poor Yakov’s heart, but also echoes through time and across generations.

Now that’s scary.

Reviewer Rating

The Vigil (MA) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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