Film Review: The Vigil – Dir: Keith Thomas

Starring Dave Davis, Menashe Lustig, Lynn Cohen

After premiering at the Toronto Film Festival last September, religious horror film, The Vigil, finally makes its theatrical debut here in New Zealand.

In the past we’ve have religious horror films such as The Exorcist and The Omen…now we have a Jewish horror film.

Set in the Orthodox Jewish community of Brooklyn, New York, The Vigil lets us in to the private world of the Hasidic Jews and their tradition of having a “shomer,” a person who keeps vigil over a corpse to protect the soul from any evil spirits.

Sounds like a good setup for a horror film and that’s what director/writer Keith Thomas thought.

Although this is Thomas’ first feature film, he has plenty of experience as a storyteller, having been a novelist before making the jump to film.

And when I say jump, you better brace yourself for a few leaps of your own when watching The Vigil. Thomas already seems to be a master of the “jump scare” and his disturbing sound design will help keep you on the edge of your seat.

The plot, such as it is, is very simple.

A young Jewish man Yakov (Dave Davis), a bit fragile, a bit traumatized, accepts the job of a shomer simply because he needs the money. He’s done it before, but at this point his relationship with the Jewish faith is somewhat frayed.

He is charged with sitting vigil with the lifeless body of one Mr. Litvak who is perched on the dining room table covered with a sheet. Just a few hours guarding the body through the night and then its payday.

Of course its not so easy. First there is still a Mrs. Litvak, an elderly woman suffering from dementia still living in the house, and played perfectly by the (now) late actress Lynn Cohen.

Then there is the house itself, full of creaking doors, flickering lights and perhaps a demon or two.

Meanwhile the late Mr. Litvak seems to float in the middle of the room while an increasingly paranoid Yakov slowly freaks out.

Thomas builds plenty of tension and that soundtrack will send you hiding under your seat.

With cinemas just opening up and screening new films, here’s a fine way to get yourself back into movie-going mode.

Marty Duda

The Vigil opens July 16th

Click here to watch the 13th Floor interview with director Keith Thomas