Let’s watch over things.
The Vigil is a claustrophobic little horror treat for fans of demonic possession. However, right from the jump we are shown how this is not going to be your garden variety haunted home/person story. We follow Yakov (Dave Davis), a young man who has left his Jewish community for unknown reasons. He is part of a support group of other people who have chosen to leave the Hasidic community behind and try to forge their own path. Yakov is clearly troubled and haunted by something, but we don’t discover what that is until later.
Yakov is also tight for cash. A rabbi from his former community approaches the young man to perform as Shomer for a recently deceased member of the community. The previous Shomer backed out and now they need a replacement. The rabbi sees this as a way to reconnect with Yakov as well as helping a member of the community. A Shomer, in Jewish traditions is someone who watches over the body of a recently deceased person. They say prayers to comfort and protect the spirit before the rest of the funerary process begins. Here is where this movie is a lot of fun is that we get an earnest look into traditions that are probably new to most viewers. I was not familiar with the idea of the Shomer and found it to be a touching ritual.
Yakov is immediately disliked by Mrs. Litvak (Lynn Cohen) who wants him to leave. The rabbi assures Yakov that things are fine and Mrs. Litvak has Alzheimer’s and will probably just sleep through the night. Obviously, since this is a horror film, we know things are going to awry.
Yakov begins to see and hear things almost immediately. He also seems somewhat cut off from actually performing the rites as a Shomer and is more interested in figuring out how to talk to women (as he got a phone number for a coffee date earlier in the film). His nerves are completely fried, and Davis gives a strong performance as someone who is barely keeping it together. We learn that he has been hospitalized, sees and hears things, and has been dealing with a tragic traumatic experience.
The movie does not play around with whether Yakov is seeing things that are evidence of a haunting versus a traumatic episode. We are introduced to the concept of the Mizzik, a Jewish demon that forces people to dwell on the past. The creatures head is on backwards as it wants to make the people it haunts relive painful memories. Yakov is a potential victim to this creature as he is struggling with trauma and guilt. Mrs. Litvak, who seems to have her wits about her provides Yakov with needed information. He must figure out how to stop this thing before dawn or it will haunt him forever.
The film provides some decent dread, and the creep is laid on thick. Despite strong acting, good lore, and an interesting story, we still end up dealing with jump scares. They aren’t used to death here, but it is close. The larger detraction from the enjoyment of the movie is the overbearing soundtrack. It works for the first two thirds of the movie but is amped up way too high in the final act. The ending of the movie ties things up in a little too nice of a way, but the ride there is enjoyable.
Issues of guilt and trauma make for ripe exploration in the horror genre. The strong cast and minimalist approach work here. I enjoyed the overarching ideas of the story and found most of the film to be well made. The good here heavily outweighs the bad. We get a fresh if familiar look at a horror subgenre in a well-crafted exercise.
Overall, this is certainly one to watch for fans of horror. It is an oddly refreshing film in that we get a lot of new in our familiar setting. Worth streaming or renting.