When we first meet Yakov (Dave Davis) he is at a support group for Orthodox Jews adapting to life outside of Brooklyn, New York’s Hasidic community. Still adjusting to his new life, he’s unemployed, struggling to make ends meet. When his friend Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig) approaches him with the offer of a job, he has no choice but to accept. For one night he will act as a Shomer, a guardian in the Jewish tradition, and watch over the dead body of Holocaust survivor Mr. Litvak (Ronald Cohen) until the time of burial.
Arriving at the house for the overnight stay, he’s greeted by Mrs. Litvak (Lynn Cohen) who warns him to leave. After Reb explains that she is suffering from Alzheimer’s, Yakov begins his solemn duty, watching over the shrouded Mr. Litvak.
Soon, as lights begin to flicker Yakov thinks he sees something scurry across the floor. But the true terror awaits as he uncovers a video detailing the ancient demon, the Mazzik, that attached itself to Mr. Litvak when he left Buchenwald.
“The Vigil” is a horror film that trades in the supernatural as much as the psychological. The shocks are born from director Thomas’s effective use of jump scares and things that go bump in the night, but the real terror here is intangible.
It is the reliving of memories, as Mr. Litvak says in the video, “the looking backwards” at the anti-Semitic horrors that shaped all their lives. We learn of the fate of Mrs. Livak’s father in the Kiev pogroms of 1919, Mr. Livak’s treatment at the hands of the Nazi’s and the recent violence that prompted Yakov to leave his faith. They are, as Mrs. Litvak says, “broken by memories,” the inescapable weight that they carry.
“The Vigil” brings the horror out of the corners of the mind, and just possibly offers an avenue for Yakov’s catharsis and return to his faith, but not before presenting a deeply unsettling story.