Review: The Vigil
Dark Night of the Soul
Written by Sarah Dobbs
There’s an unattributed, self-help quote that often gets plastered over watercolour Instagram memes that feels oddly apropos for this movie: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.” Almost every character in The Vigil is battling unimaginable demons, both literal and metaphysical, but beyond all the horror there’s a seam of compassion, and the promise of hope.
Yakov (Dave Davis), like so many of us, is struggling to build a life for himself. Newly independent in New York, he’s finding it hard to get a job that’ll pay enough to cover his rent, food, and medical bills; he’s also working through PTSD and a crisis of faith, compounded by the loss of the Orthodox Jewish community he grew up in. When he’s offered $400 to stand guard over the body of a recently deceased Holocaust survivor overnight, he’s reluctant to re-enter the world of ritual and religion… but he also really needs the cash.
Inevitably, things get spooky. The old man was being haunted by something evil, and Yakov, with all his traumas, is easy prey for a demon. Over the course of the night, the horrors of anti-Semitism (and grief, and regret, and a dozen other kinds of pain) coalesce into one terrifying, inescapable shadowy figure.
None of this is totally unfamiliar territory for horror fans, but digging into Jewish mythology instead of leaning on Catholic imagery makes it feel new – plus it’s just really well done. The practical effects look great; the jump scares are deployed skilfully; the script is smart enough to ensure you’re fully invested in Yakov’s fate long before the monster shows up; and Davis deftly combines vulnerability, pathos, and courage to create a compelling hero it’s impossible not to root for. The pitch-perfect combination of real and supernatural horrors recalls Mike Flanagan’s early work, but The Vigil also suggests first time writer/director Keith Thomas is an exciting new voice in the genre.
The rest of his crew deserve praise, too. Every aspect of the craftsmanship feels careful and completely intentional: wince-inducingly crunchy foley work enhances the gorier scenes, while enthusiastic use of colour by the lighting crew conjures a truly nightmarish hallucinogenic atmosphere. (Though there are moments where you’ll long to swap out the lightbulbs for ones that work properly!) It all adds up to an intense, emotionally affecting chiller that feels heartbreakingly timely in today’s political climate.
The Vigil is released in cinemas on 31st July in the UK and Ireland.
Director: Keith Thomas
Screenwriter: Keith Thomas
Cast: Dave Davis, Lynn Cohen, Menashe Lustig, Malky Goldman
Distributor: Vertigo Releasing
Running Time: 90 minutes