The Vigil serves up a refreshing premise that is held back due to its narrative, and bizarre disconnect with certain plot elements. Religions utilization in recent horror films continues to influence many filmmakers. For a debut outing, The Vigil does enough to make this director someone to look out for in the future. Its narrative discrepancies don’t diminish its redeemable qualities.
Jewish religion being placed at the center of this film makes it stand out because it’s a departure from the tired use of Christianity. The Vigil could be compared to The Autopsy of Jane Doe in ways, but it doesn’t include a pair of doctors being taunted by a corpse. Directed and written by Keith Thomas, The Vigil stars Dave Davis, Menashe Lustig, Malky Goldman, Lynn Cohen, Fred Melamed, and Ronald Cohen. The film follows Yakov Ronen (Davis), a man drenched with guilt over a recent accident, who decides to do a favor for his former Rabbi, Reb Shulem (Lustig). Yakov comes from a Jewish community and he has been asked to be a Shomer, he will be watching over the newly deceased Rubin Litvak (Cohen) to protect the body from evil spirits. However, upon arriving at the house it becomes clear that Yakov is not alone.
The Vigil’s short runtime makes it difficult to grow fully attached to Yakov, but Thomas provides enough depth to the character for him to be a likable protagonist to follow. He has been struggling financially, emotionally, and decides to assist an old ally one night to make easy money. Yakov is not very sociable and seems more interested in his solitude at the moment. Thomas makes it easy to grow sympathetic towards Yakov but doesn’t connect certain plot elements in the best way. It appears that Yakov has medical issues stemming from his trauma and it is made to feel important until it’s thrown away as the film progresses. Also, Yakov isn’t alone in this household while he takes on the duties of being a Shomer.
Litvak’s wife, Mrs. Litvak (Cohen) attempts to get Yakov out of the house the minute he arrives. Of course, a demon is present in the house and it has been eating away at the Litvak’s for many years, especially Rubin Litvak. Thomas ties in the torment Yakov has been enduring emotionally with the methods of this demon, which assist in our protagonist learning to cope and grow from his previous mistakes. There seems to be an underlying message about the problems that could arise from not dealing with personal demons before they manifest into physical ones. Jump scares make an appearance in The Vigil, but Thomas understands to not overdo it and opts in for sparking fear through establishing a growing sense of dread. However, the script does seem formulaic and cliched at times.
Davis is a great lead, the expressions on his face help highlight the torment Yakov is experiencing. These expressions of guilt and heartache allow Yakove to be an easy protagonist to get behind and Davis’ performance is solid overall. Yakov is forced to come out of his shell once the situation at the Litvak’s residence becomes dire. Davis’ ability to demonstrate Yakov’s antisocial reservations along with his forced behavior adjustments is wonderful to watch. Thomas keeps the film energetic by building the tension every time Yakov makes movements around the house. The shots that linger on certain areas of the house assist with letting fear settle in and Michael Yezerski’s score that blares throughout the film only adds to the terror.
The Vigil introduces a unique premise but then strays away a bit by not offering a unique approach beyond that. Thomas’ efforts here still resulted in a decent horror film that could be considered a mix of The Conjuring and The Autopsy of Jane Doe. The Vigil stops being fresh after Jewish religion is placed at the center, but the film doesn’t drop the ball that much and is still an adequate haunted house story with an important message.