While most horror films explore paranormal horror through a Christian perspective, especially Catholicism, in recent years, there has been an increase in Jewish orientated horror, including Demon (2015), Juda (2017), The Golem (2018), and Hanukkah (2019). Along with this new wave of Jewish horror, The Vigil uses Jewish folklore and tradition to sincerely evaluate how we internalize trauma through a paranormal perspective.
Yakov (Dave Davis), is a young man who is struggling to copes with both a traumatic event and adjusting to life outside of his Brooklyn Hasidic Jewish community, which he recently left. Needing work, Yakov is offered pay to sit overnight as a Shomer for a recently deceased Holocaust survivor of his previous community. The initial Shomer abruptly left. In Jewish tradition, a Shomer, or watchman is responsible for both spiritually protecting a newly deceased member of the community from unseen evil, as well as bringing comfort to their soul, by reciting Psalms. However, Yakov soon realizes that his night as a Shomer will forever change him.
A creative aspect of the film is using Yakov’s cell phone as an important prop. It’s Yakov’s connection to modern society, though he still struggles to use it. Like the 2002 Korean technology horror-thriller Phone, Yakov’s cell phone starts to turn on him, as he receives messages from a source he cannot trace back and strange phone calls from his friends. At times, we cannot tell if these are a result of Yakov is having issues with his mental health, or it’s a paranormal presence haunting him.
The struggle of Yakov being afraid to face his trauma is relatable. It was a realistic perspective, which does not judge Yakov, but shows how consuming trauma can be. We all have some form of trauma in our hearts that we struggle to face, which can feel overwhelming. The Vigil shows us how trauma can haunt us like a demon and how it has the power to consume us mentally and physically. It also emphasizes how trauma is a multilayered issue with each layer needing to be addressed as a part of the healing process.
While The Vigil has the strength of a unique paranormal concept, a disadvantage of the film, is its overly dim atmosphere. While shadows and dark rooms can help to create a feeling of uneasiness and mystery, too much can not only make it difficult to see the characters and visually follow the story. There were several times where slightly more lighting would have greatly improved the scenes, while others were perfectly lit. For example, the best lit scenes were the blueish light in the kitchen, the street lights in the neighborhood, and the light coming from a screen in the basement. These scenes created eerie tension-filled environments that you could see.
Overall, The Vigil is a refreshing look at paranormal and isolation horror films. This new age of Jewish horror is a greatly anticipated new chapter in modern horror cinema.