The Vigil 2019 ****

New week, new Blumhouse horror, but genre fans would do well to tamp down expectations; writer/director Keith Thomas’s ‘Jewish horror’ movie isn’t an original Blumhouse studios production, but was picked up after a successful debut in Toronto back in 2019. With The Conjuring 3 and Halloween Kills shifting back through the calendar due to closed movie-houses, The Vigil gets a larger spot in the limelight than might have been anticipated; that said, it’s a good pick-up for Blumhouse that’s on brand with the studio’s politically-charged best.

Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) is down on his luck, questioning his faith, taking heavy medication and has problems talking to women. With that profile, he’s unwise to take on a little night work, but for $400 he agrees to stay overnight in an Orthodox Jewish house, keeping a traditional vigil over the body of a recently deceased man. With the grieving wife upstairs, Yakov hopes that his mobile-phone will keep him company, but there’s definitely something in the house with them…

Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath, and specifically The Drop of Water would be the relevant touch-stone here; there’s only so many films which deal exclusively with spending the night watching over a recently deceased figure. Bava was a master and kept it up over half an hour, Thomas manages a good 80 minutes, and it’s something of an achievement that there’s no obvious padding or wrong-turns. More significantly, Thomas also keeps things specific by making the Jewish history of his characters important; Ronen has an orthodox background which he shuns after an unfortunate accident at the hands of anti-Semitism, while the history of the corpse goes back to St Petersburg a hundred years ago. As with Get Out, it helps to ground The Vigil in a specific cultural locale; every time Ronen acts in a way that disparages his faith, the more danger we feel he’s in. An additional bonus is Fred Melamed, who phones-it in and contributes an amusing cameo as Ronen’s doctor.

This is the one-man-in-a-room film that so many directors have tried, and few have succeeded; it’s usually pure vanity to think such a thin idea could sustain a feature. But The Vigil just about gets over the line, offering up atmosphere, jump scares and just enough social commentary to keep your eyes glued to the screen. It’s a minor horror, but a well-conceived and executed film that should find an appreciative audience.

The Vigil hits UK cinemas on July 31st. Thanks to Vertigo for early access.


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