Film Review: The Vigil

STUDIO: IFC Midnight | DIRECTOR: Keith Thomas | CAST: Dave Davis, Menashe Lustig, Malky Goldman, Lynn Cohen, Fred Melamed
RELEASE DATE: Feb. 26, 2021
SPECS: PG-13 | 89 min. | Horror mystery

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  1/2

Sometimes the simplest things can be the scariest, a theory that’s proven in The Vigil. Despite the fact it has a modest premise, essentially one setting and only a handful of characters, the movie is unnerving and often scary as hell.

Dave Davis in The Vigil

This impressive feature debut from writer-director Keith Thomas is steeped in mysterious Jewish traditions, which also adds to its creepiness. Set in the Hasidic enclave of Brooklyn’s Borough Park, the film centers on Yakov (Dave Davis), a member of a support group of young people trying to leave the Hasidic world and  move towards a more secular lifestyle. In need of money, Yakov takes a job offered by a local rabbi (Menache Lustig) to be a “shomer,” an overnight guardian who will watch over the dead body of a Holocaust survivor that will be picked up for burial the next morning.

Yakov finds himself in a decrepit house with both the body laid out on a table and the widow of the deceased (Lynn Cohen), an elderly woman suffering from dementia. As time passes, Yakov witnesses strange noises and lights and experiences nerve-rattling hallucinations. He is also warned that a “mazik”—an ancient monster of Jewish culture—is in his midst. In the meantime, using his smartphone brings more frustration and terror than relief.

Much of The Vigil, which won raves at 2019’s Toronto Film Festival, takes place in near-darkness and focuses on Yakov’s character reacting to the increasingly discomforting events going on around him. Daves is excellent as the lead, perfectly relating the dread the character is experiencing to the audience.

At the same time, filmmaker Thomas scores points for turning the eeriness up to “11” with otherworldly sounds, brief explosions of demonic imagery and flashbacks to Yakov’s traumatic past experiences. Mix all of this with three different languages (English, Hebrew and Yiddish) and Old World Jewish mysticism in a contemporary setting, and you have something that keeps audiences continually off-balance–and often thoroughly spooked.

Watch The Vigil

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.