Rylan Repulsive’s review published on Letterboxd:
IFC Midnight brings us Keith Thomas's first feature 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘝𝘪𝘨𝘪𝘭, a horror outing which concerns our lead Yakov (Dave Davis), who having formally left the sectarian Hasidic community of Borough Park, is finding it tough to adapt to secular society, all the while dealing with past trauma and an empty bank account. It is in the midst of all this, that Yakov's former rabbi offers him the "lucrative" opportunity to act as a overnight 𝘴𝘩𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘳 - a Jewish religious ritual the entails watching over a body from the time of death until burial - for one recently deceased holocaust survivor and his dementia ridden wife, which Yakov indeed reluctantly agrees to. And as you can imagine that was a poor choice; cue spooky demons and an old lady who sporatically chimes in to do creepy old lady stuff.
Jokes aside, lets get one thing clear here: 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘝𝘪𝘨𝘪𝘭 is by no means a "bad" movie, and in fact makes me indeed excited for what first time director Thomas has in store for future projects. That being said, I have a miriad of issues with this film, mostly residing in the area of narrative cohesion and how this film generates its "scares."
Beginning with what works, Davis puts on a stellar one man show as Yakov. His performance has a quality of genuineness to it that carries the film all the way through, acting not only as an individual reeling with a loss of his faith; but also as any person would who found themselves having to essentially babysit a corpse after dark. With that in mind, Thomas definitely knew how to utilize Davis here, and I can't comend that enough.
What I felt the film was a bit short on however, was a lack of narrative fluidity. The film doesnt go much into as to "why" Yakov has left his tight knit Hasidic community, which is seemingly a major part of the film, until it isnt. The film opens with Yakov in a support group for individuals who have chose to break ties with their Hasidic upbringing. You would think Yakov's past trauma is tied with abandoning his Hasidic ties, but it's seemingly not. If anything, his trauma is related to a seperate event entirely, one that almost feels nonsequiter in regards to the larger story at play.
Thomas also seems more than competent at jumpstarting tension, but can never seem to really follow through. You have so many scenes here oozing with an eerie ambiance that either end in lazy jump scares, or our resident elderly stock horror film character appearing out of nowhere to drop exposition when needed. Come to think of it, there are a lot of exposition dumps in this movie.
I will say though, that this film did have a strong enough ending that did "sort of" tie everything together in a satisfying way, which does tip me over onto the side of recomming 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘝𝘪𝘨𝘪𝘭...even though I still find the film to be wholly unfocused. Overall, 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘝𝘪𝘨𝘪𝘭 is not something thats gonna stick with me for very long. I will likely forget about it by tomorrow morning. But with Keith Thomas's competent visual prowess and one sterling performance by Dave Davis, I think this one might just stick with the right viewer.