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Streaming Releases: The Vigil (2019) - Reviewed

Posted By themoviesleuth 929 days ago on Entertainment -  The international debut of writer-director Keith Thomas’ Orthodox Jewish community set horror film The Vigil came out in Europe in 2019 but never received a domestic theatrical release before dropping on streaming platforms in America 2021.  That’s a real shame because this was one of the creepiest PG-13 rated horror films to be released this year and one whose setting and characters are steeped in Jewish mysticism with much of the dialogue spoken in Yiddish.  Though the Blumhouse banner might make some wary of this venture, this was one of the most original and distinctive horror films in recent memory. The premise is direct and simple: a young man named Yakov (Dave Davis) having recently lost his faith is on the cusp of drifting away from his Orthodox Jewish community is drawn back in when he is asked to be a Shomer or vigil over a deceased member of the group to prevent his body from being possessed by demons.  Needing some extra cash, Yakov reluctantly agrees to watch over the body.  From there, the film becomes a slow but sustained exercise in tension and fear as Yakov begins seeing things that are either supernatural or just a figment of his overactive imagination.  Worse still, Yakov’s presence as a vigil now runs the risk of becoming infiltrated by mazzik demons himself. One of the great assets of the film is how it stays with Yakov within the claustrophobic confines of the apartment housing the deceased so we share with Yakov his encroaching sense of suffocation and disorientation.  Demonic possession films are nothing new but films dealing with a uniquely Orthdox Jewish perspective on the phenomenon is very new to cinemagoers.  Visually the film is beautiful with a great use of light and shadow as well as anamorphic lenses curving the image as the camera pans about the enclosed apartment rooms.  The film also boasts an absolutely fantastic electronic score by Michael Yezerski which ranges from terrifying sonic abrasions to eclectic melodies played out on the electronic keyboard. While the film has a small ensemble cast, the film rests solely on the shoulders of Dave Davis as Yakov who makes the conflicted and frightened character three dimensional rather than a stock character.  Initially I found the use of cellular phones in the film a bit trying ala The Shallows but eventually that too becomes an important component in Yakov’s fracturing perspective as he grows more and more uncertain of what is real or supernatural anymore.  The Vigil also works in the use of the tefillin, previously glimpsed in Darren Aronofsky’s π and Noah, as a tool in combating the mazzik demons which hasn’t been seen in contemporary horror before. Far more invested in uncanny scares than transgressive gross outs, The Vigil is a slow burn that builds up to a full-throated shriek with a wholly original setting and outlook on the conventional horror film.  It also aims for genuine hair-raising creep out scares rather than simply turning the volume up for a jump scare.  Released in the US (at long last) by IFC Films, The Vigil is a tense and unrelenting terror ride about the gulf between demonology and faith as well as highlighting a still very real practice of standing guard within the Jewish community.  One of the most original horror films to come out this year!--Andrew Kotwicki (function() { var zergnet = document.createElement('script'); zergnet.type = 'text/javascript'; zergnet.async = true; zergnet.src = (document.location.protocol == "https:" ? "https:" : "http:") + '//'; var znscr = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; znscr.parentNode.insertBefore(zergnet, znscr); })();

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