An assured, emotional, and most importantly scary horror movie
THE VIGIL (2021)
It's pretty rare to find a horror movie that mixes together a spooky atmosphere, creepy imagery, and religious themes so effectively, and the few that do (The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby) are classics in the horror genre. The Vigil attempts this feat with almost flying colors with a very tense, chilling, and unique take on a religion-themed horror movie.
First-time writer and director Keith Thomas joins the list of many first-time horror directors that come out of the gate with an assured, emotional, and most importantly, scary horror movie. The Vigil is set almost entirely in one house (as many horror movies are) and focuses mostly on one character throughout its brief 89-minute runtime. Each of those minutes is interesting whether they’re focusing on Judaism traditions, focusing on our main character and his backstory, or just trying to scare the hell out of you. I'm always glad to see a new director come out swinging with something so well done. Especially when it's a horror movie.
First, I love that this movie tackles Judaism which is a religion that hasn't been commonly used in horror films. I have little to no knowledge about this religion, so I found it refreshing that the movie took it seriously enough to discuss certain aspects of Judaism. Listening to characters swap back and forth between speaking Hebrew and English felt natural. It's still a horror movie so there isn't a ton of information that's laid out, but I found it interesting.
The story itself focuses on Yakov (Dave Davis) who reluctantly agrees to be a Shomer which is a person that must watch over the body of a deceased person of the Jewish community to protect their spirit from evil entities. Of course, things get spooky pretty quickly and Yakov questions his own sanity while coming face to face with his tragic past. It's a simple and effective premise that they milk all of the tension and scares they possibly can out of without it being too overly-reliant on cheap horror movie tropes.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Dave Davis is absolutely terrific as Yakov. He portrays him as a very vulnerable, troubled man who has a hard time connecting to his community and to other people. You learn why in the film and Davis really nails the emotional struggle that this character is going through. His performance is so good that it also manages to make the viewer second guess what's actually going on. You'll ask, "Is he just insane?" many times throughout the movie, and it has a lot to do with his performance. The supporting cast is solid as well with Lynn Cohen playing the wife of the deceased person Yakov is caring for, and she's effectively creepy while also bringing quiet sadness to her character that I appreciated. The actors and characters are limited but fantastic! Great work.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
All horror movies should use practical makeup and effects if possible. That should be rule #1 if you're making a horror movie like this. The Vigil excels at not only having some really creepy designs but also using many old fashioned tricks. There's one that I found to be extremely well done and would make Wes Craven blush. The cinematography and dark, moody lighting manages to make this small, decrepit house setting feel much bigger than it actually is. Almost as if this house is its own dark and sinister world. Terrific work from all on this one.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Surprisingly, the score is way more bombastic than I was expecting. For a movie that's very atmospheric, the score is anything but at times. This might seem a little jarring at first but it totally works at enhancing the tone and the mood. But the score can get quiet which is when the sound design really shines. There are moments when there's no score and all you hear is the floorboards creaking, pipes rumbling in the walls, and the outside noises like wind and other people talking (or yelling considering it's set in Brooklyn), and all of these little noises really build the tension of each scene. The sound design can get loud just like the score, but the moments of quiet are perfectly done.
What a huge surprise this movie was. I feel like I say that a lot, but I'm always happy to repeat myself when it comes to describing how much I like a horror movie. Especially one coming from another new talent in a genre that I love very much. The Vigil has some story issues, but the acting is phenomenal, the religious themes well-realized, and the creep factor is very high; there’s some disturbing imagery in this one. It made me turn around to make sure no one was behind me many times. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants a solid horror movie that also feels unique.