It can be scary again in the cinema! In the horror film “The Vigil”, a wake becomes a nightmare. The insider tip starts in Germany this week.
Apparently they still exist: films that can scare you with the simplest of means. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some very good horror films in recent years. “It Follows” for example, “The Witch” or Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” were some great titles that have to be mentioned. Films that came up with disturbing, deeply digging pictures and took the genre seriously again with political considerations.
Something is surprising that a haunted story as traditionally staged as “The Vigil” can once again appear to be so effective. After all, the numerous old-school ghost stories had lost some of their splendor. After James Wan had a small climax in 2013 with “The Conjuring”, memorable representatives of the subgenre were few and far between. “The Vigil” can at least add a few fresh splashes of color to the crumbling facade of the film’s haunted stories.
A job that has it all
In his debut, director Keith Thomas shifts the demon haunt to a culture that is often neglected in the cinema. But above all – probably the most important point for many viewers – “The Vigil” is at least in its first third a damn creepy horror film. But always in turn: Thomas’ story takes place in a New York Orthodox Jewish community. Here Yakov longs for a new life, but the money is huge.
To get a few dollars, the young man takes a job as a shomer. In the Jewish faith, the Shomer watch the body of the deceased the night before a funeral to ensure his safe journey to the afterlife. In a small, dilapidated house, Yakov is supposed to watch over the dead Mr. Litvak, while his demented wife is sleeping upstairs. It doesn’t take long for something uncanny to happen in the building.
Effective ghost train ride
According to his own statements, the director wanted to make a horror film that he had never seen before. Admittedly, this statement is somewhat exaggerated. But it doesn’t always have to be a reinvention. As already mentioned: The first act of “The Vigil” is extremely scary. Not because the whole horror inventory is brought up here, but because Keith Thomas masters the tension and lets you feel after just a few minutes that deep-seated trauma is smoldering in the main character and his surroundings, which we know will break out at some point .
Sometimes it takes so little to create an effective scare. Two figures are enough here, one room, one laid-out corpse, one night. Cameraman Zach Kuperstein, who was formerly responsible for the terrific nightmare pictures of “The Eyes of My Mother”, captures this oppressive setting very well in “The Vigil”. He often deliberately leaves the camera standing longer than usual. At some point you start to search for the background on your own, paranoid, whether the shroud has not just moved or something is peeling out of the shadows in the dark corners of the house.
More like a short film
Now, with all the praise, you have to note that “The Vigil” is also a film that can be terribly annoying. Precisely because it shows so much potential. For once, it’s not just about punishing teenagers for their sins with ghosts or destroying families. “The Vigil” ventures into larger dimensions, processes the wounds inflicted on the Jewish community. An anti-Semitic crime against a little boy plays a role here. The Holocaust keeps breaking through.
Keith Thomas combines the trauma of the individual with that of the whole culture. It is not for nothing that the evil demon appears here with his face turned back. You just can’t look ahead. Too deep the wounds, too terrible the past. As a short film, it would have worked brilliantly with the effectively staged opening. But the director just can’t think of enough for 90 minutes.
Low event exorcism
The subtle staging is initially the strength of the film, but the thematic core is told at some point. If you miss the jump, it will be boring. Because too little new happens in the course of the Kammerspiel and it resigns itself, according to the BUH! to scream instead of daring to say something. There is a lack of ideas and sensible illustrations of the inner horrors. It almost seems as if you want to appease an undemanding audience with tired shock effects, instead of actually confronting them with the abyss of history and the melancholy of the characters.
It would have been courageous to dissolve this connection between present and past, subject and collective, in a much more associative and open manner, in the sense of a stream of consciousness. More than a gruesome grimace in the candlelight would have really been in there! “The Vigil” is still too simplistic for its thematic abundance. Yes, it has been a lot worse in the cinema in recent years! It certainly wasn’t a weak film. But when a promising start turns out to be so sluggish, you are happy when this never-ending night shift is over at some point.
“The Vigil ”will be released in German cinemas on July 23.
- thevigil2: Wild Bunch Germany
- thevigil: Wild Bunch Germany