The Vigil (2019)

The Vigil
Director: Keith Thomas
Writer: Keith Thomas
Cast: Dave Davis, Menashe Lustig, Malky Goldman, Lynn Cohen, Fred Melamed, Ronald Cohen
Seen on: 19.8.2020

Content Note: (critical treatment of) antisemitism

Yakov (Dave Davis) recently left the Jewish Orthodox community and is now trying to adapt to a life outside of it. It isn’t easy, especially since the community doesn’t necessarily want to let him go. When Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig) asks Yakov to be shomer for the night – to sit vigil with the body of an old holocaust survivor – Yakov only accepts because it is a paid position. He relieves the deceased man’s wife Mrs Litvak (Lynn Cohen), who is showing signs of dementia, and takes over the watch. But things quickly take a dark turn and Yakov finds himself facing something evil.

The Vigil impresses with its setting and Davis’ impeccable performance in a film that is focused almost entirely on him. But it isn’t quite as effective at the horror as it would have needed to be to really sell me on it.

The film poster showing Yakov (Dave Davis) sitting in an arm chair with a brungin candle. A shadowy hand is reaching for him.

Being set in a Jewish-Orthodox community and choosing a protagonist who recently lost his faith, or at least his sense of belonging in the community would have in itself already been a very interesting choice. But The Vigil takes it one step farther and uses its story to examine antisemitism, drawing a clear line from the holocaust to what Jews still face today and wondering about intergenerational trauma.

I absolutely loved the set-up to explore those themes, and Davis was really wonderful in the role as Yakov, showing his strength and resilience as much as his fragility and pain. He gave the abstract ideas of the film the necessary emotional weight. And I feel that I also have to mention Lynn Cohen, whose short appearances make the film stronger as well.

Yakov (Dave Davis) watching something on his cell phone with the corpse in the background.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to all of this. There are some effective moments of horror, but there are also quite a few stretches where the film tries to be scary and doesn’t really succeed, feeling a little long instead. The pacing was just a little off and took tension and energy from the film when it would have needed them.

Still, even if the film doesn’t succeed in everything it tries to do, it is interesting even in the parts where it fails. It may not be the horror sensation of the year, but I’d still say it’s worth seeing.

Mrs Litvak (Lynn Cohen) walking through the house.

Summarizing: Good, but not all the time.

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