February 22nd, 2021
MOVIE: THE VIGIL
STARRING: DAVE DAVIS, MENASHE LUSTIG, LYNN COHEN
DIRECTED BY: KEITH THOMAS
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
The Vigil is rooted in the traditions of the Jewish religion and creates a new segment of fears for audiences to have when it comes to watching the dead. It’s fascinating how the horror genre has become synonymous with themes of religion, but strictly cemented with Roman Catholic traditions, and not so much with those of Judaism, Hinduism, and Muslim beliefs. That seems to be changing a little when we see a movie such as Keith Thomas’ The Vigil, but sadly it does not go much farther than the traditions and cliched imagery. It begins with a man named Yakov (Dave Davis), who is on his way out of following the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, but is asked by Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig) to watch over the dead body of a recently deceased member of the community one more time for quick cash. It’s a tradition that someone must watch over the deceased but soon strange things start to happen. Weird noises, floating bodies, and haunting images. Typically all of that would interest me but The Vigil thinks shrieking noises and bland jump scares are enough to make a good horror movie. The Vigil leaves you wanting more than a sign.
One of the fascinating prospects of The Vigil is how it all takes place inside a house and in a scenario where the person being haunted is a non-believer. Especially during our Covid-times, the process of quarantining inside our houses for months, and the way religion has corrupted the minds of many, The Vigil has many themes that would work to grab onto. Director and writer Keith Thomas, has all of the details down, as someone who once attended rabbinical school, and knew much about the subject of orthodox jewish traditions. Those factors are well established but it’s once Yakov arrives at the home of Mrs. Litvak (played by the always impressive Lynn Cohen) where the narrative has no place else to go. There is a dead body in the living room, with a single white sheet covering the body, so it’s safe to expect things are going to happen with that.
The performance from lead actor Dave Davis is commendable, playing Yakov as a shy, lonely, and worried man. He’s stepping away from beliefs that he was raised on and trying to enter into a society that is foreign to him. He sits in the chair Google searching “how to talk to women” and awkwardly balks in social settings. That’s not to say he’s not kind, but when Reb Shulman approaches him he uses that sense of guilt and desperation to lure a man into a dark place. While sitting in that room we begin to see visions of creatures lurking in corners, phone calls from spirits convincing Yakov to move the body, Mrs. Litvak popping up out of nowhere, and loud banging noises. It’s those repetitions of scares that become the crux of The Vigil. Thomas sets the scene and places the tension in the room, but with each shriek and harsh pluck of the strings section becomes more grating on the viewer.
That’s the biggest problem with The Vigil, and specifically for many horror films, where the setting is made, and the imagery is right for horror, but the narrative is painfully repetitive. On top of that, the sound design is almost deafening, all in an attempt to add to the scare factor. It seems that the inspiration for a film like The Vigil is classics such as The Exorcist, Robert Eggers The Witch, and recently Hereditary. Neither of those inspirations are on the same level, but the effort, and inspiration from Thomas is commendable. It’s safe to say that Keith Thomas has a career after this, but needs more depth behind the narrative.
Using the themes of religion, death, and dark forces make for a good set up in The Vigil, but fails in the full execution. It’s a good example of what sets the well crafted, terrifying, and inspiring horror movies and those that just miss the mark. The Vigil misses the mark, but I certainly look forward to the next thing that Keith Thomas makes.
THE VIGIL OPENS FEBRUARY 26TH IN THEATERS AND VOD. IT ALSO WILL BE PLAYING AT THE MUSIC BOX THEATRE IN CHICAGO.
Written by: Leo Brady