Some of my favorite horror movies of the last few years have been ones that have pulled from real cultural influences to base their story on, rather than creating its own folklore to go off of. And one culture I feel has been vastly underused is the Jewish culture; in fact, I think the only Jewish-influenced horror I've seen (that I remember, anyway) would be The Possession which based its story around a dybbuk box. But a month ago, another film finally hit services for rent that I've been very excited to see that also takes its influence from Jewish culture is THE VIGIL - and man, was it worth the wait. The film is absolutely a supernatural horror that takes its basis on a Jewish ritual known as Shemira, where a selected person will stay with the recently deceased from the time of death until burial to prevent desecration of the body prior to burial. It's a genius basis for a film and an excellent tie-in to the culture, and that's only the beginning of it. THE VIGIL is obviously heavily influenced by the culture but don't let that fool you: the film has no problem going to some pretty dark, twisted depths to invoke shock and fear. From its dark lighting and atmosphere to its just overall constant creepy tone, The Vigil packs one hell of a horrifying punch with its cleverly and unpredictable jumpscares. I wasn't just pleasantly surprised by writer and director Keith Thomas's directorial debut, I was actually blown the fuck away. While it's current rental price of $6.99 may be higher than many others on on-demand services, I regret nothing: the film was worth every penny as far as I'm concerned - it was that good.
Yakov Ronen (played by Dave Davis) has left his former Orthodox Jewish community and has begun transitioning to the "real world" in Brooklyn, New York. After being approached by a member of his former community who ask for his help, he finally agrees after they agree on payment. Yakov is being hired to be a shomer for the night, where he will be paid to spend the night with a recently deceased member of the community until the mortuary workers can come and pick up the body for burial. Yakov only has to spend five hours with the body, praying and reciting passages from Psalms to protect the soul. He arrives at the home of the recently deceased where he will spend the night, along with the body and his widowed wife Mrs. Litvak (played by Lynn Cohen), who they claim has Alzheimer's. It isn't long until bizarre and haunting hallucinations begin to plague Yakov; at least, he believes they are hallucinations. That is, until Mrs. Litvak helps guide him to the truth: he's being plagued by a Mazzik - the same demon who plagued her husband in life. The Mazzik did not let her husband leave the house, and neither will Yavok - unless he faces the pain in his life. Will Yakov be able to escape the house, or will the Mazzik keep him bound for life, living an excruciating and haunting life? Find out in... THE VIGIL.
While explaining the movie it may sound like a film you've seen a dozen times before, let me reassure you that it isn't; The Vigil is a beast of its own that really relies on the tone of the room it's watched in to really play it up and immerse you in it. I rented the movie at 3am in my bedroom, with all the lights out and doors closed; I even lowered the brightness on my screen to really help set the mood for this film as it really does play on its use of darkness and low light to suck you right in. Once the night begins, you'll really feel like you are in the old, creaky home of Mr. and Mrs. Litvak, and that's when Davis' talent really begins to come alive. As the house comes alive, you'll find yourself questioning if what Yakov is seeing is hallucinations or reality, just as he is - and you'll be haunted by effective jumpscares all the way to the end. Honesty though, it isn't even the jumpscares that I think will be the "scary" parts for many audiences. If the viewing atmosphere is right and you're as entranced in the film as I was watching it, it will be the story that's really the haunting takeaway from The Vigil. Having to spend the night in a quiet, dark, unsettling room next to a dead body will likely freak many people out; don't get me wrong... when it starts moving, everyone will be freaked out, but just the situation alone is enough to creep many people out. Throw in an absolutely terrifying villain - the Mazzik (who I don't want to give too much away about, but he reminds me of Slenderman a bit) - and you have the recipe for one hell of a night. Oh, and we can't forget the bone-chilling appearances of Mrs. Litvak, who always manages to show up at just the worst times to haunt you with her presence. Both Dave Davis and Lynn Cohen - the two actors who you will see the most on screen - did absolutely phenomenal performances and managed to fully capture the creepy and unsettling vibes I think the director was going for. But all of this would be nothing without the films fantastically creative and terrifying storyline. The Vigil is an absolute must-see for 2021 already.