For thousands of years, religious Jews have practised “The Vigil”; a ritual that takes place after a member of the Orthodox community passes over. During this, the deceased’s remains are observed by a “Shomer” watchman who recites psalms to comfort the departed soul and protect it from “unseen evil”. This watchman is usually a friend or member of the family but you can also get paid Shomers who are hired to sit the vigil when no one else is available. This forms the basis of writer/director Keith Thomas’ debut feature, during which delectable dread is plaited and tent-pole terrors deployed.
The set up sees thirty-something protagonist Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) leave his Orthodox Jewish community to start a new life in New York City. Yakov is then approached by an old community colleague who asks him to act as Shomer for late Holocaust survivor Ruben Litvak. Yakov accepts (reluctantly) after haggling for a higher fee, but is soon slung into a torrential supernatural tiswas and pitted against personal, metaphorical and actual demons.
Director Thomas brilliantly builds tension during and beyond The Vigil’s tight, sullen prologue which sees a Golem-like figure stumbling slanted in a flashback backdrop. Similar skin scrawling scares are conveyed throughout lingering dim-lit long shots of Litvak under a blanket, but The Vigil peaks at mid-point as its plot, punctuated by sub-par jump frights, languishes slightly during slyly woven yet elongated set-pieces before slithering to a textbook finale.
Dave Davis restrains burning shocks and anguish efficiently as the haunted Yakov while Lynn Cohen enhances frights with icy menace as the witch-like widow Mrs. Litvak, birthing bigger goose bumps and neck hairs than the synthetic central spectre. Director Thomas also expertly fashions dread ascending tension and unnerving atmosphere during the gripping set-up, suggesting Blumhouse’s The Vigil is about to bud into a classic. But the script soon dithers and we’re also let down by makeshift latter half jump scares and a synthetic adversary. Horror fans could do much worse but one can’t help feeling short changed after such a strong first half.
The Vigil is released in cinemas on 31st July in the UK & Ireland