The Vigil Review: A paranoid, tense, and demonic cat and mouse game
The feature directorial debut of Keith Thomas, The Vigil, is a devious and innovate release for IFC Midnight that delivers unique supernatural horrors centered around a religious death ritual.
In Jewish religion, there is a ritual practiced in times of death called “the vigil” where the deceased’s body is watch in shifts by a Shomer so that they can recite psalms around the clock to ease the soul of the deceased and protect them from unseen evil. Shomers are generally a member of the family, but they can also be someone who’s paid just like our main protagonist Yakov (Dave Davis). Yakov has recently left his Orthodox Jewish community because of a traumatic incident but is asked by a friend to be a Shomer for five hours for a reclusive family that has no one else to watch over the recently deceased patriarch. He reluctantly agrees, but as time passes Yakov realizes that there’s a dark presence within the house that turns a seemingly standard night into a horrifying nightmare.
The Vigil has all the great technical elements that make for a horrifying horror experience. The sound design delivers effective jolts, the environment gives you claustrophobia with how the lighting and set design feel super tight and is incredibly dark, and the score from Michael Yezerski is really unique and amplifies all the moments of horror really well. What Thomas nails the most though is timing as he really knows how scare viewers and catch them off guard by utilizing these technical elements in unexpected ways. There’s a great moment where Yakov is listening to someone talk about the film’s demonic entity, the Mazzik, and rather than use Yezerski’s score to make him looking over his shoulder super suspenseful, Thomas uses the audio of the man talking to build the presence of the Mazzik before scaring the hell out of viewers. An effective use of audio and great timing is the true sign of a great horror filmmaker and Thomas shows he’s clearly got that mastered with The Vigil.
Thomas also does a great job utilizing Yakov’s phone to deliver some unexpected scares that keeps viewers on their toes. It’s always interesting to see how filmmakers show characters texting and there’s something really unique and cool about the way Thomas shows Yakov using his phone. The entire frame is sort of split in half with Yakov and his text messages and it works in showing us his reactions to his phone in real-time. His phone also works as another element to the Mazzik getting into his head and works incredibly well in shifting our perspective of what we’re seeing. Yakov can seem like he is having a normal conversation or seeing something on his phone one second and then everything changes in an instance to something much eviler and more deceitful.
At the heart of The Vigil, is really a story of a man dealing with his inner demons that are brought out through a greater evil around him. The storytelling is incredibly smart with how it slowly brings out the pain and trauma that’s pent up inside of Yakov and fleshes out the mythology behind the Mazzik. The second he enters the house, Yakov is truly trapped in an inescapable nightmare that looks to break down an already broken man. Davis makes all of the fears, pain, and paranoia of Yakov latch onto you, and it makes his final moments of facing his fears and standing against the Mazzik really satisfying and meaningful because of how much you care about him. It’s a story that, above all, keeps things simple and turns a seemingly normal ritual into something more about dealing with personal trauma.
The Vigil thrives as a horrifying nightmare that brings out personal demons and showcases a terrifying cat and mouse game between a broken man and a demonic presence. Thomas crafts an incredible debut utilizing all the elements of a memorable and tense horror experience.