Written and directed by Thomas, author of science-fiction thrillers The Clarity and Dahlia Black, The Vigil is inspired by ancient Jewish lore and mysticism and takes viewers into the world of the Boro Park Hasidic community in New York City’s Brooklyn.
Set over the course of one night, the film follows Yakov Ronen, a former Hasid who has lost his faith. Haunted by a personal tragedy and struggling to find his feet outside of his religious community, he reluctantly agrees to take a job as a shomer – a guardian entrusted to sit with and watch over the body of a recently deceased community member, in this case a Holocaust survivor, before they are buried.
Once inside the darkened old house, he is thrust into a terrifying fight for survival when a series of disturbing events threaten both his sanity and his safety. As the hours tick by and his fear intensifies, he soon realises his only hope lies in confronting the ancient secret locked within the home’s dilapidated walls.
Dave Davis delivers an intense performance as Yakov, and his ability to switch effortlessly from one emotional extreme to another brings a raw authenticity to his performance. Lynn Cohen delivers a creepy performance as Mrs Litvak, the ageing wife of the deceased man.
The Vigil takes themes such as grief, trauma and forgiveness, and weaves them together with ancient folklore to create a unique story, but the delivery is hit-and-miss.
The film relies largely on jump scares to create fear, with much of the action taking place in darkened rooms and scenes becoming blurry during pivotal moments. While these techniques mean viewers rarely get a clear view of what is haunting Yakov and are intended to build suspense, they ultimately become frustrating.
The Vigil’s storyline also unfolds at a painfully slow pace, yet its final moments seem almost rushed, with a confusing onslaught of revelations.
It is refreshing to see a horror film based within Jewish culture and mysticism, but this one won’t suit the tastes of all genre fans.