'The Vigil' movie review: Effective small-scare horror

'The Vigil' movie review: Surprisingly effective small-scare horror

'The Vigil', which uses Jewish themes and demons, appears as a breath of fresh air

A still from 'The Vigil'. Credit: YouTube screenshot/IFC Films.

Director: Keith Thomas

Cast: Dave Davis, Lynn Cohen

Score: 4

Modern Hollywood horror films have one critical flaw: They are all somehow centred on Christian-themed horror and demons, often with unnervingly similar plots. This removes a certain sense of the invasion of personal space, even if the film turns out to be good at the end.

As a result of the monotony of modern horror, The Vigil, which uses Jewish themes and demons, appears as a breath of fresh air.

For a directorial debut, Keith Thomas has crafted an effective horror film, which succeeds at creating a personal connection between the haunted and the haunting entity, while cruising along remarkably smoothly for a film that is not even 2 hours long.

The Vigil follows Yakov Ronen, a Jew with depression and episodes of hallucinations, who is called upon to watch as a Shomer for a recently deceased Holocaust survivor, Litvak. Not even 15 minutes into the film, The Vigil crafts a meticulous introduction for both the characters, of which one is not even alive.

As the night passes on, Yakov, who actually takes up the job reluctantly, learns that something might be haunting the house, despite his misgivings and apprehensions that he is hallucinating. Of course, nothing in a horror movie is that simple, and things quickly take a downward slope for Yakov as his past is slowly dragged out by the demon - a Mazzik - in its twisted attempts to torment him.

Yakov for his part is an oddball of a character. He's somewhat rational, unbelieving in demons and ghouls and the like till it's literally looking him in the face, yet he lacks the attention span - or perhaps the drive - to put 2 and 2 together, preferring to be driven by a mix of hormones and disinterest. This, ironically, makes him a likeable character as his story is revealed by way of confrontations with the Mazzik and the elderly Mrs Litvak, who herself appears cold at first, but grows into something of a motherly person as Yakov trembles under the weight of his past.

The Vigil relies greatly on jump scares and the use of blaring music, which do tend to mar some of the earlier mischiefs of the Mazzik, but around the halfway time, it really comes into its own class with a highly-effective use of third-person exposition from the deceased. From there, the film sees a series of a well-crafted mix of pure horror and disquiet, adding to the overall effectiveness of its gloomy and creepy atmosphere.

Not many horror movies can be effective when confined to the four walls and a basement of a small suburban house. It takes a somewhat more original approach to the use of mythology along with a tight focus on presentation and characters, something that The Vigil scores solid points for. One can only hope for future horror films take such an approach.

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