The Vigil follows a man who is asked to look watch over a dead body through the night for his former Orthodox Jewish community, but a dark entity begins to make itself known to the man as he struggles with his past and his faith.
The Vigil Review
We're in March, and usually at this point in the year, some films start to stand out as top-10-of-the-year candidates. The Vigil is the first that comes to mind as far as achieving that goal. A film that focuses heavily on its story and atmosphere, there is as much substance as there are scares.
As I have professed many times before, I am a big fan of the horror model in which a powerful story and/or character study is driven by a horror vehicle. The horror elements can be used to enhance the metaphors for the human condition in question and the added depth provides substance to otherwise shallow horror structures. The Vigil is one such film that uses its lead to tell a story of trauma, grief, and guilt and how such things can rule and inevitably destroy our lives. The weight of this metaphor is carried through a demon that feeds off of such things, and the metaphor is impactful in its real life applications as well as its on-screen presence.
There comes a time for every horror patron in which they become desensitized to horror tropes as a whole. And while many of us, myself included, continue to look for something to strike fear into our hearts again like when we were young, there is also a piece that can still appreciate well-crafted scares, even if they don't have the same effect they once did. To that end, The Vigil was a mixed bag. Some of the visuals were well executed, and its patient build of atmosphere was rewarding, but the belligerent use of a striking score to illicit a jump was not only unnecessary at times, but inevitably annoying at others. Some of the shots speak for themselves, and this film would have been better off letting them breathe, rather than rely on its heightened music to drive the momentum. It hurt some scares rather than helped.
The film performs like a haunted house, in many ways following traditional tropes of the sub-genre, but its unique twist of Jewish customs was refreshing and engaging. The demon's purpose and design was intriguing and fun, though I could have used a little more. The acting was superb, with Dave Davis carrying the show practically by himself, but the performance from Lynn Cohen as the dementia-suffering wife of the deceased was amazing as well.
The climax carries an emotional weight that is heavier than the tension the demon puts forth. Our attachments have latched onto the trauma of the past as much as the protagonist, and we find ourselves on his heart's journey to confront it. And while that trauma essentially takes the form of the demon, in the moments of prayer we are desperately seeking solace for the characters as much, if not more so, than the conquering of the demon's hold (though I suppose it comes hand in hand).
While the film's unnecessary reliance on sound design to execute already effective scares was an apparent downside, nearly everything else in the film is a success. The pacing may require some patience, but the careful treatment towards the atmosphere and character/world building makes it worth it. I wouldn't call The Vigil a mind-blowing masterpiece, but it certainly deserves to be seen and is easily one of the best films of the year thus far.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 9/10
Horror Quality: 7/10
Film Quality: 8/10