Is there anything more iconic in horror than the haunted house? An isolating setting, shadowy nooks, crannies, and the invasion of the penultimate safe space. The perfect cocktail for horror. Keith Thomas’ The Vigil takes that classic, terrifying format and drops it right in the center of an Orthodox Jewish Community, utilizing the faith, its mythology, and practices, to conjure an entirely new kind of haunt.
“The Vigil [..] conjure[s] an entirely new kind of haunt.”
Yakov (Dave Davis) has recently left his orthodox faith. But after being coaxed into sitting overnight watch over a recently deceased man — a practice called being a shomer — Yakov’s faith will face the ultimate test.
Coming in at an efficient 88 minutes, we completely bypass the subtle creaking floors, and “what was that?!” ‘s typical of a ramping up haunt. As soon as Yakov takes a seat beside the most-definitely-going-to-move-later white sheet corpse, The Vigil gets a’rolling.
And with the promise of a few hundred dollars to stay the night, Yakov’s determined to power through it and last until dawn. The mysterious entity, who the deceased man’s wife claims had been haunting the couple for decades, won’t let the clock tick down quietly. Yakov’s got a whole house of frights to encounter.
The Vigil isn’t altogether something you haven’t seen before. Much of the night plays out like a Blumhouse haunt circa 2012. What makes the film special is its unique perspective; Judaism. As a non-jewish moviegoer who’s a little exhausted by priests, Catholics and holy water (Sorry God, sorry The Exorcist), it’s always refreshing to see horror movies who evoke underrepresented cultures, religions, and spirituality so rich with history. In fact, the only Jewish horror film that even comes to mind is The Possession (2012), a film that bases itself around a Dybbuk and stars rapper Matisyahu as the demon-banishing rabbi.
“And we know vulnerability makes for good horror, because we know demons. Vulnerability is a demon sandbox.”
Yakov’s struggle with his faith is relatable (whether you have plenty of faith or none), because any kid who grew up with strict parents or a little different from their family, friends, or community understands what it’s like to feel different. That internal conflict eats away from one’s self-confidence, isolating them to an entirely different plane of loneliness. A plain ripe for exploiting. And we know vulnerability makes for good horror, because we know demons. Vulnerability is a demon sandbox.
Even without its stellar premise, The Vigil would still be a winner on the horror front. Utilizing every tool, room, and shadow within the house, Thomas crafts an audience-pleasing, jump-happy horror that will empty more than a few pails of popcorn into the air. With its short runtime, scares are packed into every corner, delivering a few surprises you won’t see coming.
Overall, The Vigil is a delightfully refreshing horror film from a new voice who has plenty of jumps, scares, and haunts to fill the night.
The Vigil celebrated its World Premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, September 9th. TIFF 2019 runs September 5th-September 15th in Toronto, Ontario and you can find all of our reviews, interviews, and news HERE, as well as on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!