Yakov Ronen ( Dave Davis ) had originally intended to turn his back on the Khaddist community to which he once belonged, but his financial worries lead him to accept Rabbi Shulem’s ( Menashe Lustig ) offer. Since he was canceled at the last minute, he turns to Yakov, who is supposed to hold the traditional wake for a deceased member of the community, since no one else in his family can be found, and the widow ( Lynn Cohen) is highly demented. Yakov promises an easy job and a quiet night after which he will at least be able to pay his rent for a long time. However, after a few minutes he finds out that something is wrong in the deceased’s house. Plagued by terrible visions and strange noises, Yakov tries at least to get to the bottom of the latter, but without success. The widow finally explains to him that her husband was persecuted all his life by a demon, a Mazzik, who, now that he is dead, has apparently looked for a new victim in Yakov. If the young man wants to avert the curse of the evil spirit, he has to act quickly, which for Yakov means to finally face his trauma.
With The Vigil , author Keith Thomas presents his first feature film, which immediately moves into the subgenre of religious horror. The inspiration for the story gave him his time as a medical assistant, when he treated several people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s as well as the rich mythology of Judaism, the motifs of which can be found in the film. The result is a minimalist, very effective horror film, the subject of which takes up events of today, primarily the regrettable return of anti-Semitic tendencies in global society.
In the first few minutes, the viewer is introduced to the film’s religious motifs. The script as well as the general aesthetic in The Vigilcan mainly be related to Hasidism, an ultra-orthodox orientation of Judaism as well as to Jewish customs and saga, from which the tradition of the wake and the demon that afflicts Yakov comes from Its backward-facing face represents the pain it causes its victims, as the evil spirit feeds on the pain it causes them with particularly unpleasant, traumatic memories. The already somewhat insecure Yakov is shown horrific visions of a prisoner in the concentration camp as well as his own traumatic experience, an encounter with some men who once assaulted him and his little brother.
Similar to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook , it is not so much the monster itself, but rather the fear within you that is the source of the horror. The longing to lead a normal life, as Yakov emphasizes at one point, remains more of a hope, as the memory hangs like a sword of Damocles over the young man, who already seems insecure in everyday communication. What is interesting here is the tendency in Thomas’ script to link the individual trauma with the historical trauma of the Holocaust and today’s anti-Semitism, which destroys the path to normality.
Apart from the thematic aspects, Thomas’ film is convincing not least because of its visual approach, especially when it comes to the representation of the setting. Since most of the action takes place in the house of the deceased, the protagonist is immediately restricted, especially since the demon no longer lets him leave the house. In connection with Zach Kuperstein’s camera work and the lighting, this creates a frightening, claustrophobic feeling. This makes it impossible to avoid the encounter with one’s own trauma, increasingly transforms the place into a place of nightmares, from which one has to free oneself or is finally devoured.