The Vigil arrives in cinemas nationwide on July 31st.
Catholicism and Christianity have long held court in supernatural horror, from The Exorcist to The Omen and The Conjuring. So it feels only fitting that a range of other belief structures is now challenging this dominance; therefore, The Vigil starts from an interesting premise as Judaism sits centre stage. Here writer/director Keith Thomas takes the classic supernatural horror and explores the themes from a Jewish perspective as the streets of Brooklyn’s Borough Park take centre stage.
The Vigil is rooted within the Jewish tradition of someone sitting with the body of a recently deceased community member before their burial. The person is called a ‘shomer.’ Their responsibilities include reading from the ‘Tehillim’ until the dead person is ready for burial. This act helps calm the spirit as it leaves the body, ensuring it travels the right path.
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Yakov (Dave Davis) opted to leave the Orthodox Jewish community following a personal tragedy, his life a mix of post-traumatic stress and financial pressure as he attempts to rebuild his sense of belonging. Following a group support meeting for people in a similar position to himself, Yakov is asked to conduct a Vigil for a recently departed man with his former Rabbi insisting that this is a one-off request due to the agreed Shomer disappearing. Reluctantly Yakov agrees, but as he steps into the house, he has no idea of the terrors that await him as he faces his own demons and an ancient sleeping evil.
Keith Thomas’ debut film slowly builds its tension, the dimly lit streets of Borough Park echoing the eerie residential silence of The Exorcist. Here Thomas plunges his audience into classic supernatural terror while exploring the themes present from a different religious angle. It is, therefore, a pity that The Vigil shifts from ghost story to mainstream horror in its final act, jettisoning much of the nerve-shredding fear built up during the opening two acts.
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However, despite the weak conclusion, there is much to admire in The Vigil, from the cinematography of Zach Kuperstein to Dave Davis’ beautiful portrait of Yakov, a man desperately trying to move on but equally trapped. While it may not keep the tension and fear flowing throughout, The Vigil is an engaging and different take on the ghost story that deserves your full attention.
Director: Keith Thomas