Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) has departed from his Jewish Orthodox community but Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig) convinces him to exercise the ancient tradition of the vigil by paying him generously. The vigil sees Yakov act as Shomer, who supervises a dead body, reciting psalms to the deceased to comfort their soul and protect them from evil spirits. Alone apart from the departed man’s widow (Lynn Cohen), Yakov starts experiencing strange and increasingly frightening visions.
Described as a Jewish horror, ‘The Vigil’ alternates between Hebrew and English and doesn’t spoon feed the audience in relation to Orthodox traditions. This makes the film quite different and intriguing in some respects, but it also can be a little hampering. We get an interesting insight into former Orthodox members’ lives as the feature opens with Yakov meeting other 30 something year-olds to talk about their struggles and cultural differences they’ve observed in their new Western surroundings (the reasons for their leaving the faith remain a secret). The vigil tradition is explained via a title card at the start of the movie, but later, when we delve into the background of the deceased as a Holocaust survivor, and learn of what seems to be some kind of demon called a “Mazik”, things get confusing.
Idiosyncrasies and details to do with the Jewish faith aside, ‘The Vigil’ is still, ultimately, a straight-up horror of the haunted house variety. So even if some plot elements are lost on you, there’s a good bit to get the heebie-jeebies about regardless. Coming from Blumhouse and exec producer Jason Blum (the studio and producer behind such franchises as ‘Insidious’, ‘The Purge’ and ‘Sinister’), one is hopeful in getting satisfactorily scared. While it can be pretty creepy and wreck your nerves in its suspense and sound design, ‘The Vigil’ is still largely conventional, bringing to mind ‘The Grudge’ in particular in its style and story.
The cinematography from Zach Kuperstein works well, particularly as it returns to the white sheet which the body lies under again and again. A spider scurries, there are strange creaking noises, blinking lights, your standard stuff to start off. The big jump scares come later. While the ending is, as tends to be the unfortunate case with so many examples of horror, a little anticlimactic, this is an impressive debut from writer-director Keith Thomas, utilising the Orthodox lens to great effect.