Written and directed by Keith Thomas and starring Dave Davis as Yakov Ronen, The Vigil (horror film) will be released nationally on 23 July 2020, with Victoria to follow late August.
Set over the course of a single evening in Brooklyn's Hassidic Boro Park neighbourhood, Yakov a former Hassid is not in a good place. He's lost his faith and stays as far away from the insular religious community he has just fled.
After a support group meeting, he's approached by Reb Shulem, a rabbi, who offers to pay him to be a shomer (guardian, watchman - to sit in vigil as is a Jewish practice) for a recently deceased Holocaust survivor. Broke, he reluctantly accepts the position. Shortly after arriving, he realises something doesn't feel right. This is not going to be a deathly quiet night.
A first feature film for novelist turned director Keith Thomas, this is a simple, effectively creepy story, set in one place. A darkly lit home in the dead of night, complete with dead body and a wispy old widow (brilliantly played by veteran stage and screen thespian Lynn Cohen as Mrs Litvak) who seems to keep popping up. The score sets the tempo of the film as it crescendos and falls in perfect timing, enhancing the dramatic narrative that Yakov is not alone. Evil lurks and it's not about to let go.
Davis as Yakov is a strong performer that gives vulnerability to his character and basically commands every scene alongside the wonderfully odd (character) Mrs Litvak (Cohen). The only other character of significance in the film, Cohen brings a great presence to her role. The film's scare tactics rely on shadowed lighting and the usual cliches of flickering lamps, sudden movements, shadows and sounds, and the atmosphere of a haunted house; yet it has a refreshing take that is effective.
If you're not familiar, you might need a bit of a heads up on Jewish traditions as Yakov arms himself for a reckoning with evil with a tefillin as he recites the shema, a Jewish prayer that expresses complete faith and love of God. The tefillin is a set of small black leather boxes with straps and serves as a reminder of God's intervention.