Jewish horror is a subgenre rarely – if ever – tackled, with the only movies that come to mind being The Possession and The Unborn, though I’m sure there’s a handful more. That all changes when new film, The Vigil, featuring dialogue in Yiddish, releases this Friday. It isn’t perfect, but it feels very rooted in Jewish folklore in a way that we haven’t seen before. The lead performance from actor Dave Davis is very effective as it dives deeper into his psyche. The horror becomes rooted in his experiences, making it feel personal in a way that differentiates itself from other modern horror films.
After a tragic accident from years earlier, Yakov (Dave Davis) has stepped away from his faith and is struggling to pay rent and keep a roof over his head. When Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig) comes to Yakov with a very appealing proposition: sit as shomer (sit with a recently-deceased body while blessing and reciting verses) for 5 hours and make $400 – he jumps at the offer but gets more than he bargained for.
The setup is prime for a creepy night of horrors, and The Vigil does not disappoint. The deceased – a Holocaust survivor who became a recluse later in life – is interesting and adds a layer of intrigue to the story well before Yakov even walks through the door. The monster itself is horrific and gnarly, with nightmarish makeup accentuating the more garish features. There are times when one questions whether Yakov even pays attention to anything though, especially after the instructional video he finds in the basement. He doesn’t always make the smartest choices but following him through the night never loses its luster. He is an inherently flawed character and the film never paints him as anything else.
The Vigil is a properly creepy take on a single-night premise with a potent injection of Jewish folklore. It’s effective slow-burn horror that brings to mind many other films, with visuals that reminded me of Insidious and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Your mileage may vary when it comes to both the more expositional elements and the ending itself, but this is a bold vision of terror from debut director Keith Thomas. I can’t wait to see what he brings to the table with his retelling of Stephen King’s classic work, Firestarter.