“It wants your pain.”
Story: Yakov is an ex-Hasidic Jewish man who is trying to recover from severe trauma. He’s also broke. So when a friend in the Hasidic community asks Yakov to be a shomer – a “watchman” – over the body of a man who has just passed away? He says yes, because payday. It’s only five hours, til the sun rises. Oh, and the last shomer ran off. Can’t be that bad…what’s that noise?
Genre I’d put it in: Blumhouse Films With An A24 Feel
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on Jewish tales of the Mazzikin.
Gotta say: First thing – for my fellow Lucifer and/or Sandman fans, we’re not talking about the character Mazikeen. Though her name does come from the Jewish myth of the Mazzikin, she’s not here. But Vigil star Dave Davis is here. Obviously. Got that? Let’s go.
Based on an overheard conversation about a shomer who left his watch because he was afraid, Vigil is an effective blend of religious and psychological horror. Think of it as The Innkeepers meets The Exorcist in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn.
The last time I saw a horror film with Jewish religious/mythological elements was 2012’s The Possession. It was a pretty decent film, but I did think the myth was an interesting one. So now with Vigil, I get another look at the chilling world of Jewish folklore. And I enjoyed the hell out of it.
It’s got the wonderful Lynn Cohen (Sex and the City, The Hunger Games) as Mrs. Litvak, the widow of the deceased. Cohen plays with the character’s dementia, giving Yakov no idea what’s real and what’s just her mind misfiring. [Spoiler: not a misfire.]
Dave Davis is fantastic as Yakov, a man scrambling to put the pieces of his life and soul together after leaving the Hasidic community. He’s in terrible emotional pain, and unfortunately that’s what the Mazzikin is drawn to. Davis delivers a performance that alone is worth the price of admission. Yakov has had issues with seeing things. So he’s trying to use what he’s learned in therapy, but it’s not helping. Davis carries this film, almost the only one on screen for the bulk of the story. Yakov’s pain, confusion, and fear is on his face at all times, and I couldn’t look away.
Which brings me to my only problem with the film. There are scenes where it’s much too dark. It’s hard to see what’s going on, or the faces of the performers. As this film mainly focuses on what’s going on in Yakov’s mind – and the spooky as heck spirit that’s trying to latch on to him – total darkness gets in the way. [NOTE: as I saw this as an at-home screener, it could be the laptop-to-TV transfer that was making things too dark. However, sometimes the laptop images were also much too shady in a bad way.]
The climax of the film is pure religious horror catnip, with Yakov suiting up. He dons the arm-tefillah, the head-tefillah, and yarmulke, lights a candle, and gets to it. I got the good chills – yeah, he’s gonna get that sucker baybee – and I thought of all the Catholic gee-gaws shown in exorcism horror flicks. Though I’m not a Member of the Tribe, I really liked seeing these religious items used to give a “monster” the smack down. More please, I’m here for it.
The climax is a bit rushed, but that’s more the choppy, abrupt editing than anything else. The rest of Vigil is a slower burn, so that record-scratch of a scene pulled me out of things for a bit. Luckily the final scenes get right back to the emotionally moving deeper dives that made the rest of the film so compelling.
At an hour and a half, Vigil packs a lot of emotion into its brief run time. It hits US theaters and VOD this Friday, and if you’re looking for a chill on that cold winter night? Turn off all the lights, and enjoy. Maybe don’t have your back to an open door though. You’re gonna be on edge already.