The Vigil spans a single night and follows Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis), a young Hasidic man in New York who attends a support group for those who’ve left ultra-Orthodoxy behind. Low on funds and having recently left his insular religious community, Yakov reluctantly accepts an offer from his former rabbi and confidante to take on the responsibility of an overnight “shomer,” fulfilling the Jewish practice of watching over the body of a deceased community member. Shortly after arriving at the recently departed’s dilapidated house to sit the vigil, Yakov begins to realize that something is very, very wrong.
Diving deep into ancient Jewish lore and demonology, The Vigil is a cleverly written supernatural horror film that is highly effective in its execution. Directed by Keith Thomas, the indie horror film showcases the director’s talents in creating an atmospheric setting that engulfs its characters, eliciting suspenseful moments from scene to scene with a masterful use of camerawork, sound effects and dark environment.
Following the low-budget Blumhouse formula, The Vigil takes advantage of its restriction by confining the characters of the film in one location for most of the film. While dark environments may well be a result of the film’s effort to conceal its production quality, the film benefits by keeping its antagonist in the shadows, only offering glimpses of it at opportune moments. The filmmaker’s knack for timing is also translated to the pacing of the horror film, as it rarely drags on.
For a film that is heavy on supernatural lore, The Vigil has an unexpected human dimension that adds a lot of depth to it. Utilised to great effect, the dialogue switches between English and Yiddish constantly, with multiple references to the Torah, the Talmud and the Holocaust that provides the film a unique cultural foundation. By blending the horror genre with personal-and inherited-Jewish trauma, the Keith Thomas directed film delivers a stellar narrative on the powerful effects of trauma on an individual, and just how eerily similar it is to the monsters hiding in the shadows.
While The Vigil doesn’t exactly break new ground when it comes to the indie horror genre, Thomas’ directorial feature is an impressive film that expertly blends sound design, lighting, script, and lead performance. By keeping the tension high from start to finish, The Vigil’s sophisticated approach in horror filmmaking as well as emotionally captivating storytelling elevates itself from its peers.