Review by Sean Boelman
Religious themes are nothing new in the horror genre, as there is often no better source of scares than a seemingly unstoppable supernatural evil. Yet despite having a lot of promise, Keith Thomas’s The Vigil often feels like it doesn’t know how to expand upon these good ideas in a way that is satisfyingly suspenseful.
The film follows a man who is paid to keep watch over a dead body in an Orthodox Jewish tradition, soon finding that there is also a malevolent entity present. Although the uniquely Jewish angle gives the movie a somewhat fresh spin, the otherwise very familiar storyline is paint-by-numbers in a way that quickly becomes boring.
Perhaps the most effective aspect of Thomas’s film is the mystery element. Had Thomas went all-in on the psychological aspects as opposed to the more comfortable supernatural chills, this would have been a lot more compelling. The contrast between the ambiguity of the mystery and the obviousness of the movie otherwise is frustrating.
Even the atmosphere of the film is pretty inconsistent. There are some interesting shots, but other portions of the movie are poorly-lit in a way that makes it hard to watch. And while there is some very cool visual symbolism, particularly related to the use of religious iconography, it’s not used effectively enough to be as impactful as it should have been.
Additionally, the film doesn’t really go into the protagonist’s arc with particular substance. There are some very clear messages here about doubting one’s faith, but Thomas’s movie feels very much like a feature debut in that it asks a lot of questions and answers almost none of them, resulting in the film feeling rather scattered.
This is particularly troubling when the movie is predominantly a one-man show. Although the protagonist does interact with some side characters at different points throughout the film, there are significant portions where his isolation is the driving force of the conflict. Sadly, he just isn’t developed enough to carry the movie on his own.
Dave Davis’s performance is strong enough for what it is, but he isn’t able to take the character to a deeper level. The subtext is there for Davis to bring out the emotion in his turn, but for some reason, be it bad direction or a failure to translate the script, he settles for being a basic horror leading man. Recognizable actors like Fred Melamed and Lynn Cohen show up in the supporting cast but offer glorified cameos.
On paper, Keith Thomas’s The Vigil should have been the next big thing in the genre, but in execution, it’s disappointingly generic. Thomas’s interesting ideas and voice fail to shine through in a film that feels too content with settling for the lowest common denominator.
The Vigil hits theaters and VOD on February 26.