“For thousands of years, religious Jews have practiced the ritual of the vigil…”
The vigil (or shemira) is a known tradition within Jewish communities. When a member of the community passes, the tradition requires that a Shomer watch over the body to comfort it after death, and protect it from unseen evil. Typically, a Shomer is a friend or loved one of the deceased, but desperate times can call for a hired Shomer to perform the vigil when no one else can. Thus is the premise of director Keith Thomas’ feature debut.
The Vigil introduces us to Yakov (Dave Davis), a Jewish man who has recently departed from his Orthodox community following a hate crime that resulted in the tragic death of his young son. One night, he is visited by a former friend and member of the community, who asks him to sit watch over a local Holocaust survivor that has recently died. Reluctant at first but desperate for money, Yakov accepts. However, he soon learns that a malevolent entity has attached itself to the deceased Mr. Litvak, and may have just found itself a new host in Yakov.
If you’re a horror fan like me, then this premise might not sound all that original, and the truth is, it isn’t. After all, religion and horror have often gone hand-in-hand for as long as the genre has existed, with films like The Conjuring, The Exorcist and Hereditary pulling from Catholic or Pagan lore. The Vigil, however, gets its inspiration from Jewish mythology, which is something I for one, have rarely seen.
The malevolent entity in question is known as a Mazzikin, a mischievous – and sometimes harmful – demon thought to be sent by God to punish. The Vigil does a good job of blending the lore with the fictional world of the movie. As I mentioned, Mr. Litvak was a Holocaust survivor, who – like so many Jews during that time – experienced real horror. The Mazzikin is a metaphor for the things we can’t let go of, which is why it attaches itself so aggressively to Yakov upon Mr. Litvak’s passing. No matter how far Yakov runs, he too, can’t escape the horrors of his past. This is shown brilliantly in the film when Yakov tries to flee the house, only to be violently forced to return.
All in all, I think The Vigil is far from the perfect horror movie. It’s one of those films that’s more effective in what it tries to say, rather than the way it goes about saying it. It showcases some genuinely creepy imagery, but at times, relies too heavily on jump scares or a jarring score. I will say though, that Dave Davis gives a strong performance as the character of Yakov, and Keith Thomas has proven himself as a director to watch for. His next film is a reboot of the 1984 Firestarter movie, which as a massive Stephen King fan, is music to my ears.