Review: Exorcism thriller 'The Vigil' weighed down by lousy genre tropes
Courtesy of IFC Midnight
What could practically be described as “The Jewish Exorcist,” Keith Thomas’ welcome though slow “The Vigil” is noteworthy for exploring something other than Roman Catholic traditions. While it’s engaging to learn about cultures and their beliefs, something mainstream cinema tends to ignore, “The Vigil” can’t shake the lousy jump scares and sluggish pacing that accompanies most exorcism thrillers.
“The Vigil” follows Yakov (Dave Davis) who is transitioning from the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle and gets caught in a rather sticky situation. It’s customary when someone dies in the community, their body is guarded until they’re buried, and Yakov is enlisted for the task. Taking the gig to earn a quick buck, Yakov begins hearing odd noises and watching visions of past trauma manifest during his overnight accommodations. The brooding atmosphere creates its fair share of tension, but “The Vigil” tries to conjure frights through a mixture of ear-blasting sound cues and dark corridors. A few sequences get their desired effect, but I left yearning for more.
Though “The Vigil” is grounded in demonic terror, it’s hard to ignore the isolation aspect of the screenplay. A fascinating point considering we’re all stuck at home in the COVID era and have gone mad; and the fact Yakov is breaking from his heritage and starting a new life strikes a relevant chord. Considering Thomas attended rabbinical school and knows a great deal about Jewish traditions, which are established prior to the inciting incidents, “The Vigil” oozes with passion and Davis’ commendable performance flourishes. But when you’re stuck in one location with a repetitive sound chord that amplifies at prime moments, eventually it weighs down the viewer.
Thomas’ use of religion and death throughout “The Vigil” is a stark reminder that Jewish representation needs to exist in the horror medium too, albeit with an emotional core worthy of exploration. All the ingredients are present, and Davis gets credit for carrying the emotional burden of the film, except he can’t steer “The Vigil” from cheap horror clichés.
THE VIGIL opens in select theaters and on-demand and digital Friday, February 26th 26th