FILM REVIEW: The Vigil (2021) Requires Constant Vigil-ance

The Vigil: Plot Synopsis

Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) has been given an important job by a local Rabbi. See, a local man has passed away and someone is needed to handle the task of Shemira, a religious Jewish ritual where someone watches over the body of the deceased until their burial. Yakov is reluctant at first but agrees to do it once he is promised payment. All seems to be going well at first, the only other person in the house besides Yakov and the deceased is the widow who spends most of her time upstairs. It’s not too long, however, before things get strange and more than a little terrifying. 

The Good

A fun thing about the Horror genre is that, very often, it will take elements of religion and use them to create some incredibly scary films. From the scariest film of all time, The Exorcist, taking Catholic imagery and using it to create some of the most intense sequences in horror history to the entire slasher genre using very religious teachings such as “No premarital sex, no drugs” as precursors for brutal murders, religion and horror are regular playthings.

A lot of the time, however, the religion being used is either Christianity or Catholicism and it becomes something of a novelty when a horror film uses a religion outside of those two. 

The Vigil is one of those rare films that, to its credit, uses its iconography well enough that even someone who isn’t well versed in the Jewish religion (hi, that’d be me) can understand what’s going on and how they’re using this imagery. For the record, my personal lack of knowledge of the Jewish religion means that if any of the scares are references to Jewish stories that would go over my head. I can judge if they were scary (mostly they were) but don’t ask me if they did the reference justice because I wouldn’t have a clue. 

The Vigil feels very real, characters converse casually in a mix of languages and have realistic conversations and reactions to things. Possibly the best moment happens when Yakov has the most realistic reaction of all and just tries to run from the house, he behaves just like anyone would in this situation.

The Vigil takes a little bit for things to start getting spooky but when they do, this film will happily throw everything out there. From jump scares (some of which don’t work as well as they could but most of them manage to affect) to cringe-worthy body mutilation (nails… oh god… the fingernails) The Vigil will do what it needs to do to get a reaction. Often this is accompanied by a loud dramatic and familiar chord on the soundtrack, which can sometimes enhance but sometimes just makes the effect not work as well. 

The Vigil 2021 Film Review
The Vigil

When The Vigil is going for it and presenting this haunted house story, it’s got some good shock moments and a fantastic lead performance that carries the whole thing. He elevates a lot of the more intense scenes, especially towards the end when things are just going haywire and every visual trick they can do on the limited budget is being thrown at the screen.

There’s a lot of really good practical visuals (including a personal favourite levelling up of the “Freddy above the bed” shot from Nightmare on Elm Street that happens right near the end of the film) and some incredibly tense moments that really do get a good sense of fear going.

A Couple Of Issues

One problem that The Vigil has is that the relationship between Yakov and the deceased person he’s looking after is… non-existent, which wouldn’t be a problem except the entire film has these flashbacks to a horrible tragic moment of Yakov’s past and I admittedly spent a large part of The Vigil going “Why isn’t Yakov keeping vigil over this other person who he actually knows?”

It’s not like that would be a big deal, except one of the big moments near the end revolves around this tragic past and it feels like they added it in later to force a connection where one hadn’t been before.

The Vigil is also incredibly dark… as in visually, it’s hard to see a lot of things. Again, this is standard in a lot of horror for the scary things to happen at night but, usually, that’s outside and the main action is still well lit enough that it’s easy to follow and The Vigil has a lot of moments where I just couldn’t see anything or figure out where the main character was.

Might not be an issue in some films but in a film where it takes place inside a home where lightswitches are ample, it does kind of bug me. Plus when you have a lot of dark space behind the main character that’s always a great place to hide things and I can’t even think of a moment this film uses that beautiful blank space to hide things.

The Vigil Conclusion

In general, though The Vigil is a great little haunted house film with an interesting religious ceremony at its core. While it has its flaws, The Vigil can get under the audience’s skin and create some unique and interesting scares. It might not be the most original story, but it’s presentation and content is certainly unique enough to make it compelling. The Vigil will definitely give you a few good scares and it’s always nice to see more groups being represented in genre cinema. 


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