The Vigil (2020)

Director: Keith Thomas

Running Time: 88 Minutes

Starring: Dave Davis, Lynn Cohen, Menashe Lustig, Malky Goldman, Fred Melamed, Nati Rabinowitz, Moshe Lobel

My review of The Vigil was first published at Bloody Good Screen.

For his feature debut, writer and director Keith Thomas crafts an unsettling chamber piece that unfolds across one night. It follows Yakov (Dave Davis), a man who is struggling with his new lifestyle. Having left his Orthodox Jewish community, he’s slowly adapting to things such as using a mobile phone, and speaking to women. Lacking in funds, he’s persuaded to sit vigil over a dead body, but finds himself facing a malevolent entity.

Over a haunting 89-minutes, we essentially get a one-man showcase for Dave Davis. In the central role of Yakov, he does fantastic work conveying the character’s inner pain, which has been eating away at him for so long. His experiences have worn him down, contributing to his loss of faith, and those effects are evident in Davis’ exceptional performance. All that’s left are feelings of grief and guilt, which he must face as they manifest over the night.

From early on, you get the feeling that something isn’t right. Maybe it’s the creaking noise from upstairs, or the grieving widow who disapproves of Yakov acting as shomer, but those can be explained away. Then there’s a reassuring phone call which slowly turns sinister, and ends up making your blood run cold. At another point, Yakov tries to do what audiences often recommend, and just leave the house, but it results in an unnerving scene that isn’t easily forgotten. As the feature moves into the third act, this is unfortunately the weakest portion of the story. Take the entity which haunts our lead, whose design is composed of interesting ideas which don’t translate as well to the screen. Still, this doesn’t diminish from the atmospheric film about our inner demons, and how they don’t have to be the end of us.

Most importantly, this fantastically shows that religious horror doesn’t have to be limited to Christianity. One takes for granted how commonplace the utilisation of crosses, priests, and the bible have become, as they’re repeated ad nauseum while other religions become overshadowed. Hopefully, this is but the beginning of other faith groups getting their own slices of religious horror.