Director Keith Thomas makes his feature debut in IFC Film’s, The Vigil. A horror film Steeped in ancient Jewish lore and demonology, The Vigil is a supernatural horror film set over a single evening in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Borough Park neighborhood. Low on funds and having left his insular religious community, Yakov (Dave Davis) reluctantly accepts an offer from his former Rabbi and confidante to take on the responsibility of an overnight “shomer,” fulfilling the Jewish practice of watching over the body of a deceased community member. Shortly after arriving at the recently departed’s dilapidated house to sit the Vigil, Yakov begins to realize that something is very, very wrong.
Usually, I try and avoid the trailer with a horror film as I like to go in with an open mind and a fresh experience. The Vigil opens up with an interesting enough premise. Once the film begins, Keith Thomas’s script displays an enriching respect for Jewish culture. One of the things about the screenplay I liked was the background information that Thomas uses of shomers and how he ties it into the film. When Yakov first comes into contact with his former Rabbi, the director uses a great setup to show the difference between the old and new school viewpoints regarding religion. When Yakov gets to the home, there’s also a great scene where he’s texting a young lady he’s pursuing romantically. The director highlights the message that Yakov is sending to put us directly into the young man’s conversation.
The Vigil runs a quick ninety minutes, and director Keith Thomas wastes no time setting up the standard horror templates known in the genre. For the most part, The Vigil is a one-man show centering on Dave Davis as our protagonist. While he has some interactions with Mrs. Litvak (Lynn Cohen), the widow of the deceased community member, Dave Davis’s performance would either make or break the film. Davis succeeds for the most part in the role, as Keith Thomas’s script slowly reveals the layers of what the film is truly about. While I don’t want to thoroughly spoil the movie, I will say that Thomas utilizes the age-old plot pivot of past trauma and questioning one’s faith. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “The devil finds work for idle hands,” and that’s the vibe that Keith Thomas was going for. Once the credits rolled on the film, Yakov’s arc was crystal clear of why he needed to go through the scary night.
The Vigil isn’t particularly scary, and thankfully the marketing department isn’t promoting the film as such. Furthermore, those who like their endings wrapped up in a tight bow may not enjoy the movie. The horror buff in me knows all of the angles that Keith Thomas could’ve taken with this film and ensured a hit. Instead, Thomas has crafted a thinking person’s horror film that I’ll mildly recommend for fans of religious-based horror films
Final Grade: C+
The Vigil opens in select theaters, digital and VOD this Friday, February 26th