Tuesday, October 18, 2022

#2,841. The Vigil (2019)


For thousands of years, religious Jews have practiced the ritual of ‘The Vigil’. When a member of the community dies, the body is watched around-the-clock in shifts by a Shomer, or watchman, who recites the Psalms to comfort the deceased’s soul and protect it from unseen evil. This watchman is typically a family member or friend, but there are paid Shomers… Hired to sit the vigil when no one else can

The above, which appears just before the main titles of writer / director Keith Thomas’s 2019 horror film The Vigil, sets the stage nicely, clueing us in on what its story will involve. As for the thrills and chills we’ll experience over the remaining 88 minutes, the movie earns them on its own.

Disillusioned with a faith he can no longer embrace, and dealing with the guilt of a recent family tragedy, Yakov (Dave Davis), an ex-Hasidic Jew, is trying to start a new life outside of the Boro Park, Brooklyn neighborhood where he grew up. But Yakov is having a difficult time making ends meet, so when Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig), a member of his former Orthodox community, offers to pay him cash to sit as a Shomer for the night, Yakov agrees.

The recently deceased is a Holocaust survivor named Rubin Litvak (Ronald Cohen), who lived alone with his wife (Lynn Cohen) and rarely, if ever, went outside. But what seems like an easy payday becomes a living nightmare when Yakov is tormented by a Mazzik – an unseen demon that feeds off his fear and pain. What’s more, according to Mrs. Litvak, the Mazzik will not allow Yakov to ever leave their house again!

Frightened and confused, Yakov must act quickly to break free of this most unusual entity, which, once it takes hold, will never loosen its grip on him.

The idea of spending an entire night with a corpse is itself enough to give me the willies, but it is what director Thomas conjures up during Yakov’s stay at the Litvak abode that carries The Vigil to a whole other level of creepy. Already troubled by the death of his younger brother (which he feels was his fault), Yakov (wonderfully played by Davis) experiences a series of visions during the vigil, and receives calls from both his physician Dr. Kohlberg (Fred Melamed) and potential girlfriend Sarah (Malky Goldberg), only to find he may not have actually been talking to either!

In addition to its psychological elements, The Vigil offers up a few visceral thrills as well. After an encounter with the Mazzik, Yakov tries to flee the house, only to experience severe pain the further he gets from it, his bones cracking and distorting the entire way. In agony, he stumbles back to the Litvak’s, where there’s more than just Mrs. Litvak waiting to greet him!

With its unique story, a couple of intriguing mysteries (the movie opens with a flashback to World War II. An unidentified man, with a Nazi officer standing behind him, is forced to shoot a woman through the head) and plenty of genuine scares, The Vigil does more than offer viewers a glimpse into Hasidic culture and folklore; it keeps them poised on the edge of their seats.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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