In the front room of his New York home, holocaust survivor Rubin Litvak lies dead and shrouded, at rest but not at peace, his wife possessed of a quiet grief, another stone added to the load she has carried with stoic resignation for decades, the curse of progressing Alzheimer’s yet to offer the blessed loss of the memories of her past and the children she drove away to keep them safe.
Into her house has come a stranger, Yakov Ronen, paid $400 for five hours work to act as Shomer for Rubin, performing the vigil over his body until dawn as he recites prayers to comfort his soul and protect it from unseen evil, but manifested as a form of dybbuk or mazzikin there is a malevolence already within the house which seeks a new host,.
Written and directed by Keith Thomas, The Vigil is set in the Jewish communities of New York, a people living within a modern metropolis whose orthodox religious observations, handed down unchanged for generations, set them as proud outsiders who are targeted for hate crimes.
Yakov having abandoned his orthodox upbringing following the anti-Semitic incident which led to the death of his younger brother, he carries that trauma with him into the shadows and flickering light of the Litvak home where he is greeted with hostility by Mrs Litvak which is assumed to be a symptom of her illness.
The establishing scenes aside, The Vigil is a two-hander between The Final Girls’ Dave Davis as Yakov, spiritually wounded and physically in need, having to choose between meals and medication and in need of cash and companionship, and the late Lynn Cohen in one of the final roles of her grand seven decade career of stage and screen, weary and resigned yet resolute and defiant.
Held hostage by a cruel demon whose twisted head damns it to always look backwards, neither Yakov nor Mrs Litvak are able to change the past but must find a way to look forward through the darkest hours before dawn in their waking nightmare of survivor’s guilt carried across generations, The Vigil strongest when adhering to its unsettling vision of faith drawn on deep cultural roots rather than falling back on the predictable scares of production line horror.
The Vigil will be released on digital platforms on Monday 4th November and on DVD on Monday 4th January in the UK and Ireland