You know, there are many shitty things about this mess that we’re in right now. But one of the ones that seems to have come up time and time again in the writing of this here blog is how many awesome films have slipped under the radar as even the biggest blockbusters wobble in the face of a precarious movie industry.
And, with horror hardly being the most front-and-centered genre in the first place, some downright brilliant horror movies have managed to nearly vanish in amongst the rest of this messy year of film. One of those movies is The Vigil, the directorial debut of Keith Thomas, following a young man (played by Dave Davis), who recently left the Orthodox Jewish community, paid to keep the titular vigil over a dead man for a single night – only to find that he’s getting more out of the deal than a few bucks and a cheap night in.
With so many major horror movies (case in point: The Conjuring cinematic universe) taking such a distinctly Christian-centric approach to the world of the supernatural, anything that explores a different faith’s approach to all things scary. The Vigil takes a pretty compelling approach to it: the man in the story’s centre is trying to rebuild his life after leaving his lifelong community, an insider-turned-outsider-looking-in once more. The roots of the faith, the memories of it, are there, but like any new convert, his commitment to his newfound life is a solid one. Making the invasion of the creature tormenting him – seemingly passed from the man he’s keeping watch over on down – that much more interesting.
Which is what makes the haunted house story that unfolds as emotionally engaging as it is. This isn’t just a wrestling with a demonic spirit, but with the very notion of its existence in general – what it means if it is real, what it means if it isn’t. Leaning on history, family, cultural and personal trauma lends this narrative the depth that it needs to soar, and damn, it really does – Dave Davis is genuinely brilliant in this leading role – and it’s downright close to a one-man show for a good chunk of the film’s runtime. But Keith Thomas pulls on more than just a spooked lead to make this work. Grinding, brutal sound design, inventive jump-scares matched with long, paced segments of damn near nothing at all – this is someone who knows the pieces of the horror genre and knows how to fit them around this story in a really interesting way.
The Vigil is coming out in the US next month, and I can only hope that it starts getting the recognition it deserves. Don’t let this brilliant piece of haunted house mastery fall under the radar – in 2021, give The Vigil the love that it so keenly needs to keep it from falling into obscurity.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via IndieWire)