In these unsettling times, new films are seemingly few and far between, with countless indefinite delays unless made for VOD. Cinemas have re-opened here in the UK, albeit tentatively, which means films can be once again enjoyed the way the were meant to be. The fact there are no big summer blockbusters to be seen however, means this gives hope to the films that would often get overlooked at this time of year, especially when that film has had little to no promotion, despite it being one of only a handful of recent cinema releases. The Vigil is one of these, and despite being distributed by horror titan Blumhouse, little was done to herald in the film’s release. Hopefully it is not due to lack of faith from the studio, as The Vigil is one of the surprises of the year. A low key, unsettling horror based on beliefs and traditions of the jewish faith, sees Yakov (Dave Davis), a man who has distanced himself from his community, face a terrifying night in a creepy house after accepting to do some work for an old acquaintance from his estranged past. The work is question is a shomer. Someone who must stay with a recently deceased person overnight to make sure no harm comes to their body or soul.
We know it’s not going to be him sat on twitter all night, so it’s not long after he starts his watch that things start to go bump in the night. These are introduced with some suitably creepy noises coming from upstairs, where the elderly widow of the deceased is supposed to be sleeping, and it’s not long before the noises become a more physical presence. With a lot of horror movies in this style, it tends to be grief and guilt manifesting itself in the form of a malevolent terror. The situation for the protagonist is, do you allow yourself to be consumed by it or do you try to overcome it and get through the other side? It’s an unsettling journey with some fantastically tense, tightly wound build ups, with a couple of great scares thrown in for good measure. A film which is probably the first since Annabelle Creation to be genuinely scary (although not quite hitting those highs).
This type of horror movie may have been done over and over by this point, but the way The Vigil presents itself feels as fresh as it does banal. Its use of religious symbolism from something other than christianity makes a refreshing change as well. Seeing a film about demons that the hero doesn’t try and banish with crucifixes and holy water makes quite the change. It looks great, shot to look like it was actually made on film, and were it not for the use of current tech, could quite easily have been set 20 years ago. It’s also quite dark, depriving the senses, with dimly lit rooms and hallways, while the sound is almost deafening sometimes, which really builds the atmosphere and the sense of dread. This is bolstered by both an excellent central performance from Dave Davis and a great supporting cast, keeping things tight and full of suspense. The bombastic summer blockbusters may be absent from the return of the multiplex, but when the films we get are this good, they aren’t entirely missed.