The Vigil (2021) is an inherently Jewish film. The reviewer is not, but will do his best to respectfully commentate from outside that perspective in this latest movie review.
Synopsis for The Vigil:
A young man agrees to fulfil the duties of a “shomer,” the ritualistic practice of looking after a dead body over the course of one night.
Like I mention in the opening, The Vigil definitely stands as a film distinctly Jewish in nature. It has a lot to say on the matter. As a film, it’s a discussion of the modern Jewish experience, of pain, and of faith in general. I have no personal connection to Judaism, but the film treats both the religion and audience with respect. There are ritualistic elements, like tefillin, something I was able to learn a little bit better about after the director answered my question about it at the Live Q&A last night, but the film is clear in its iconography to convey their importance to an outsider audience. This was one of those rare times where I’ve gone “this is definitely not my story, my lane,” but still fully connected and empathized as an audience member. The last time I can remember that is Miles Morales’ arc in Into The SpiderVerse, and its Latinx/African American perspective.
Along with the cultural and religious elements the film portrays, it doesn’t neglect to be a successful, chilling horror story. The protagonist, Yakov (Dave Davis: Bomb City 2017), has seemingly lost his faith after experiencing a hate crime and originally only agrees to perform the shomer so he can pay his bills on time this month. However, he is forced to confront his own crisis of faith when he discovers something had plagued the deceased man he’s watching over, and it has his eyes on him. While The Vigil is not some sweeping drama, it keeps things lean and mean to maximum effectiveness. We worry and care about Yakov and fear what the entity, known as The Mezzik, can do…
On that note, The Mezzik is one of the most chilling new horror antagonists I’ve come across in a long time. It’s rarely seen directly, but its physical presence is felt from the moment Yakov first enters the apartment he is supposed to do the shomer at. It’s just as predatory as Pennywise, playing on the fears of its victims, but unlike the killer clown, it doesn’t have patience for being coy first. Once it’s keyed onto Yakov, it systematically removes any support or escape for him, emotionally and physically, and it’s chilling.
For a film that plays in a very isolated bottle episode format, The Vigil shows the interplay between The Mezzik and Yakov and is engaging throughout. Watching the Q&A, I was shocked to learn that Davis is not as devout and knowledgeable as Yakov. He gave such a stellar, human performance to a character mostly on his own the whole time.
The Vigil gets a hearty recommendation from this critic. It’s an emotional, smart horror film that keeps the story effectively lean without extra filler or anything to distract from the experience and what it wants to say. It’s also PG-13 without sacrificing the scares or getting too excessive, so approachable to wider audiences!