Tense and confident, the Jewish themed chiller ‘The Vigil’ delivers some meticulously crafted scares within its interesting, yet slightly underdeveloped story.
The films setup is so simple, but man is it perfect. The film describes a particular part of Jewish funerary rights where a shomer must sit and watch over the recently deceased, citing phrases from sacred texts to comfort the soul. One unlucky young man ends up performing such a service to an old couple haunted by a Mazzik, a demon from which his own soul is now in need of saving.
Whilst the plot obviously has deeper meaning, and themes ranging from some very obvious holocaust references, to modern anti-Semitism in general, this film feels like an empowerment for Jewish audiences; and I don’t think you would have think to hard to make the link between exorcising the fictional demon, to breaking free of mental ones.
From a non-Jewish perspective this feels fresh and ‘The Vigil’ certainly doubles down on the authenticity. Aside from some obvious Jewish fashion, there are a number of dialogue sections of the film spoken in foreign tongue, and despite the film being set in modern times, the tools for battling the demon are fought with (what I assume) are traditional Jewish holy items; certainly an interesting excursion from the typical crucifixes and holy water.
Before all that happens, however, lets focus on what impresses from the get-go, this films tension building. With an atmosphere thicker than a whale omelette, this film is seriously creepy. When you’ve essentially got one man in some old dears living room, accompanied only by a corpse, I guess you don’t have to try to hard to creep people out, but when this is combined with set lighting and some perspective altering camera angles, then you’ve got all the hallmarks of a winning setup.
With the film sets giving just enough light to cast shadows, but not enough to stop your imagination from filling in the blanks between shades, this film really couldn’t have set its jump scares up any better. Add in all the foreign bits to throw you off guard, and the description of a malevolent entity which, and get this, “wears its true face on a head which is turned backwards” and this Jewish Nightmare is less ‘tranquil Sea of Galilee’ and more ‘my sofa of dysentery’.
Ok, might have overstated a little bit there, but I am man enough to admit, this film had me going.
It’s a Blumhouse film for sure, but this is a good one, with frequent and effective scares and little to no bum-notes from this perspective.
I could go into more detail with the scares, but in all honesty, I would just watch and see for yourself. I think, if you’ve been watching horror in the last 10 years or so, you know what to expect, but this is definitely on the more grim ‘Sinister’ side of things than theatrical scares, and despite a prevalence of typical jump scares, there are a few more chilling scenes which help give it a little more credibility over some of its recent contemporaries.
I will state however, that the film, however effective, is not without its faults. Whatever attention to detail was given to the set and supernatural set pieces, it was taken from the character development, this includes antagonist also. Aside from a singular (admittedly quite poignant) backstory our protagonist ‘Yakov’ doesn’t really have a lot going for him – aside from a hint at a history of mental health – which I’ve got to say here just feels like a cheap way for him to accept the supernatural oddities early on in the film. The Mazzik too, never feels particularly fleshed out; and to be honest I was hoping to hear a little more lore about this entity which never came.
Whilst I’m on a role with the criticism, I will add that, and I got the whole redemption thing, but I felt the ending was a little lacking in escalation, considering the build-up.
Overall, however, I’m recommending ‘The Vigil’ to anyone who enjoys modern horror and fancies one with the scares done right; paired with an equally engaging fresh perspective. Director Keith Thomas has put together a strong debut here, and with just a little bit more confidence in the films concept, and a little more character/lore development in the films middle, he would have had an absolute banger. That said ‘The Vigil’ is still well worth watching.