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#TIFF19 Review: The Vigil (Midnight Madness)

September 16, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A rare horror movie rooted in Judaism, The Vigil uses Jewish traditions and beliefs as the basis for its haunted house story, rather than the Christian beliefs that usually inform these sorts of narratives. The film opens with Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) meeting with other young adults who have left Brooklyn’s traditional Hasidic community of Boro Park and are trying to adapt to mainstream modern life.

Strapped for cash, Yakov is persuaded by Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig) to be a Shomer for Mrs. Litvak (Lynn Cohen), an old lady with dementia whose husband has passed away. It’s the Shomer’s job to watch over the deceased’s body before the burial, per Orthodox Jewish tradition. She has no family to perform the service, and the other Shomer already left in terror. But there is an evil presence lurking in the shadows of the old house in the form of an ancient demonic entity, and Yakov is forced to confront it over the course of this terrifying night.

The feature directorial debut of Keith Thomas, a former medical researcher turned novelist who has moved into filmmaking, The Vigil is a simple but effective haunted house movie. Much of it unfolds in this one setting, and cinematographer Zach Kuperstein makes great use of darkness and shadows to establish a creepy and unsettling atmosphere. Davis carries the film with his sensitive and introspective portrayal of a man being terrified, as he is forced to confront both literal and figurative demons. With some well staged set-pieces that are designed to make your skin crawl, The Vigil works as a solid horror movie that also becomes an interesting metaphorical look at how the traditions and beliefs that you were raised in continue to shape your experience, even as you try to move away from them.

Dave Davis in The Vigil

Public Screenings:

Monday, September 9th – 11:59 PM at Ryerson Theatre

Wednesday, September 11th – 9:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

Sunday, September 15th – 4:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

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