By James Lindorf
Vigil, noun, a period of wakefulness during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray. There may not be a more perfect word to base a horror film on than vigil. Sure, something like death or torture may be more on the nose, but they only convey an act. In contrast, vigil describes an action and brings along religious connotations. The ideas of spirits and the afterlife, and just a general sense of unease.” The Vigil” will be available on Digital and VOD platforms starting February 26th.
Writer and director Keith Thomas captures the word beautifully in his atmospheric debut film “The Vigil”. The supernatural horror film is steeped in Jewish folklore and demonology and set throughout a single night in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Borough Park neighborhood. After a personal tragedy resulted in him leaving the Hasidic community, Yakov (Dave Davis) is struggling to make his new life work. Low on funds, Yakov reluctantly accepts an offer from his former rabbi and confidante (Menashe Lustig). The task is simple; all Yakov has to do is assume the role of “shomer,” fulfilling the Jewish practice of watching over a deceased community member’s body. Returning to his insular religious community for one night to pray for and protect the soul of a man he has never met seems simple enough. However, shortly after arriving at the dilapidated house to sit “The Vigil”, Yakov begins to realize the job may be more complicated and much more dangerous than expected.
The success of “The Vigil” comes down to three elements: Davis’s performance, the cinematography, and the sound design. Davis is not just the main character, but he is the sole focus for most of the film. It is up to him to carry the film and convey all the required emotion with nothing to play off of beyond flickering lights and shadowy figures. Davis has been working consistently for years, but Yakov may be the part that launches his career to the next level. He perfectly blends the fear, guilt, and anger necessary to bring the character to life. The film’s limited budget means there isn’t much money for special effects, but no matter how small the scare is, Yakov sells it and elevates the moment.
Cinematographer Zach Kuperstein (The Climb) uses three primary colors to enhance the atmosphere of “The Vigil”. The first focal color is orange to add a sense of warmth that contrasts with the rest of the movie. The second color is green, which contributes an otherworldly eeriness to the things that go bump in the night. The final key color is black. Everything terrible is hiding in the shadows. When orange is the main color, the darkness is always encroaching and weighing on it from all sides, crushing the environment like Yakov is being crushed by guilt. Complimenting the visuals and the acting is the sound design which Thomas says is 60% responsible for the film working. The creaks, the bumps, the scratching of nails against tile all seek to pull you deeper into the horror that Yakov is facing.
“The Vigil” opens the door to a world, or should I say religion, of possibilities. The horror genre is overrun with images and imaginings of Christian horrors. I would love to see further explorations of Judaism and other faiths from around the world. “The Vigil” isn’t on the level of Get Out, but it is the best debut film I have seen in the four years since that film launched Jordan Peele into the stratosphere. Thomas is already signed on to two TV shows and the Blumhouse remake of Firestarter with a little more experience and a bit more money. We could be looking at the next master of horror.
Genre: Mystery And Thriller, Horror
Original Language: English
Director: Keith Thomas
Producer: J.D. Lifshitz, Adam Margules, Raphael Margules
Writer: Keith Thomas
Release Date (Theaters): Feb 26, 2021 Limited
Release Date (Streaming): Feb 26, 2021
Runtime: 1h 30m
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