Seth’s review published on Letterboxd:
Originally published on into:screens
Set over the course of a single evening in Brooklyn’s Hassidic “Boro” Park neighborhood. Having lost his faith, Yakov (Dave Davis – Greyhound) isn’t eager to go back to the insular religious community he only recently fled. But when Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig – Menashe), a rabbi and confidante, approaches Yakov after a support group meeting and offers to pay Yakov to be the shomer – a respected position of someone who watches over the body overnight to keep it from demons – for a recently deceased Holocaust survivor, he reluctantly accepts the job. Shortly after arriving at the dilapidated house, Yakov realizes that something is very, very wrong.
The concept of The Vigil looks good enough on paper to get excited about. The film could’ve explored territories that are fairly unknown for many of us who aren’t part of the Jewish community, with stories that often involve the supernatural and afterlife. Instead of turning into a 21st century “Jewish Excorcist”, it rather takes the easy route and goes for a more lighter version of ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe‘. The film takes place in one extremely underlit house, where creepy knocks and creaks help build an ominous atmosphere. What starts off strong quickly gets annoying when rough sound design and annoyingly ineffective jump scares take over, unfortunately losing any emotional impact the story could have created by the end of this haunted night.
Director Keith Thomas seems lost in his own screenplay and never elevates what makes his first feature film stand out: the atmosphere. Those dark rooms sure raise questions, as to why Yakov doesn’t turn on more lights and keep them on when he starts witnessing shadows in the corners of the room. The problem with the overpowering darkness is that at one point, that isolating feeling loses its effect and every shadow just becomes a blur. Luckily Davis knows how to handle himself, in what’s basically a one-man show.
The Vigil never reaches for that light at the end of the tunnel, relying too much on clichés and overused scare tactics. By keeping it all a bit too vague, it loses any sense of terror it so successfully built up in the first half of the film, making it an unfortunate mishap that could’ve been an unforgettable original addition to the horror genre.