The Vigil

The Vigil ★★★½

Set within the Hasidic neighbourhood of Boro Park Brooklyn, The Vigil is a low key, minimalist horror based upon Jewish faith's beliefs and traditions. The plot centres on Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis), a former Orthodox Jew who's striving to adjust to living in the outside world being persuaded to administer as a shomer for a holocaust survivor named Rubin Litvak.

Most of the film takes place in the dimly lit rooms of the home of widow Mrs Litvak, who Lynn Cohen provides with a chilling performance. Not long after he starts his guardianship, he begins hearing creepy disturbances coming from upstairs where the deceased's widow is presumed to be sleeping. Flickering candles illuminate many of the scenes, and there's an excellent central performance from Davis, who shines as exhausted and uneasy Yakov; in essence, his performance props up the film. It shares similarities with Jennifer Kent's The Babadook, working best when the storyline leans into psychological horror as it continuously plays on the perilous mental stability of the central character.

Its the feature debut for director and writer Keith Thomas, and the use of Judaism other than Christianity as the basis for horror storytelling makes a refreshing change. A few jump-scare noises aside, Thomas sticks to a claustrophobic tone that mixes a haunted house atmosphere with dominant themes of sin and forgiveness, with the use of a Mazzik (a Hebrew demon) to express the protagonist's traumatic past and the broader, more profound pain of the Jewish people. It's a tightly controlled film that builds into a compelling horror that also acquires commentary on contemporary events, primarily the deplorable return of anti-Semitic tendencies in the world at large.

Paul Elliott liked these reviews