Skip to content

THE VIGIL (2021) review

March 3, 2021


written by: Keith Thomas
produced by: J.D. Lifshitz, Adam Margules, Raphael Margules & Jamie Buckner
directed by: Keith Thomas
rated PG-13 (for terror, some disturbing/violent images, thematic elements and brief strong language)
runtime: 89 min.
U.S. release date: February 26, 2021 (avail. to rent on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, Apple TV+ and Google Play)


There have been horror films steeped in religion from different cultures, but it’s rare to find one like “The Vigil”, which incorporates Orthodex Jewish rituals and lore into an atmospheric ghost story. The feature-length directorial debut from writer/director Keith Thomas focuses on an emotionally plagued young man who takes a very unique job for one specific night which will set into motion an unsettling turn of events. While the central performance is noteworthy and underlying themes of guilt and shame accentuate the elements of fear, “The Vigil” is weirdly usurped by obnoxious sound design and a distractingly blaring score by composer Michael Yezerski.

After recently leaving the Jewish faith, Yakov (Dave Davis) is feeling like an outsider in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood and in need of way to pay his rent. Despite feeling on the fringe of Hasidic community, he still has his friends and a burgeoning intimacy is possible from Sarah (Malky Goldman), a young woman encouraging Yakov to connect with her. One night, after leavin a gathering of friends, Yakov is approached by his former rabbi, Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig) with the offer of a job to be shomer for the night at the home of Mrs. Litvak (an excellent Lynn Cohen), who’s husband recently died. The dementia-ravaged widow cannot perform the duties herself and whoever had previously committed suddenly cancelled on the rabbi.



Yakov has acted as shomer in the past, and reluctantly takes the job since he’s desperate for cash. It should be an uneventful night, making some easy money. After all, per Judaism tradition, a guard (or watchman) called a shomer is required to sit with the body of the deceased until the time for burial so the body will be protected from any physical or spiritual harm. The shomer is simply to sit in the same room as the body and recite Psalms out loud.

It all sounds straightforward, with Mrs. Litvak retiring to her bedroom upstairs and Yakov sitting in the front room with her husband’s covered dead body. He starts off reading scripture and soon is distracting by text messages from Sarah (not knowing how exactly to respond), but then he starts hearing mysterious noises from upstairs or maybe they’re coming from the walls. The scraping or dragging sounds, as if furniture is being moved, make it clear he and Mrs. Litvak are not alone. Who or what is with them?

As the hours pass in the night, fatigue turns into anxiety and fear as the noises increase and Yakov begins to see frightening images. He eventually learns of a connection between what he hears and sees with the deceased body he is assigned to watch over. It turns out that Rubin Litvak (Ronald Cohen) was a Holocaust survivor and as Yakov wanders the home he learns of Rubin’s extensive research of Mazzik, a demon attracted to those who’ve experienced tremendous trauma, left to live with torturous guilt.



It could be that Mazzik is present to torment the soul of Rubin Litvak or maybe the demon is there to plague Yakov in his own nervous state. From what Thomas gradually shows us of each of their respective pasts, these two men have experiencing impacting losses that still linger, even though one of them is dead. “The Vigil” opens with a haunting albeit curious scene from the past, in which a man is being forced to shoot a woman in a forest (something that we’ll come back to in a more disturbing manner later). Through haunting memories, we learn that there was a recent event in Yakov’s life that left him with PTSD and likely the reason for his religious upbringing fallout.

How and when Thomas surfaces these traumatic events is enlightening (despite the obnoxious sound design and score jolting us out of the story one two many times) and important to the overall story. Once the presence of Mazzik is established, there are some impressively disturbing visuals to the demon, a creature that seems to feed off not just trauma, but loss and guilt. We learn that both Rubin and Yakov have experienced moments of violence in their past that still haunt them and if Yakov is able to make it to sunrise he will not only fulfill his job duties, but he also may atone for his own feelings of regret and guilt.

As Yakov, Davis exceeds at navigating a myriad of mental and emotional challenges throughout the movie. He’s most impressive when enduring the excruciating physical pain Mazzik puts him through when Yakov tries to leave the Latvik home. Even even when Yakov remains inside, the elusive creature manages to manipulate technology –  multiple times using his phone, a specific conversation with his therapist (the great Fred Melamed, heard but not seen) – in such a way that thoroughly frightens the nervous man, making him doubt what is real. From a production design perspective, these moments really work, but the strength of “The Vigil” lies the superb performance from Davis. One can’t help but to feel utterly exhausted for the poor guy once the sun comes up.





No comments yet

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: