In The Vigil, a man spends a night alone with a corpse. Or so he thinks, because there’s something else in the room that wants to eat his soul. Tonight the unusual demon crawler is on TV for the first time.
“The Vigil – The Death Watchis a fascinating mix of insidious demon horror, character drama and arthouse cinema. Fascinating not only because director and screenwriter Keith Thomas (“Firestarter”) knows how to portray many scary moments in a minimalist and efficient way. At the same time, the film cleverly introduces us to an environment that is probably foreign to most of us. And that although – at least in the big cities like Hamburg, Berlin etc. – Hasidic communities exist in our midst.
“De Vigil – Die Totenwache” can be seen on RTL 2 tonight from 19 to 20 February 2023 at 0.15 am. The broadcaster does not offer reruns and the film is not currently included in any of the popular streaming subscriptions. Unfortunately, if you miss the air date, you’ll have to dig a little in your pocket if you want to see the FSK 16 title. Online retailers like Amazon have “The Vigil” available on Blu-ray or DVD, as well as paid video-on-demand:
» “The Vigil” at Amazon: DVD & Blu ray* / primevideo*
“The Vigil – The wake” on RTL 2: That’s the story
Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) was a lifelong member of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York. Some time ago, however, he increasingly turned his back on his religious community after a traumatic experience. He is currently in a self-help group with other dropouts. After all, he has no idea how to survive in the world beyond his hometown and its customs and traditions.
How do I write a cover letter? How do I get my own apartment? How do I approach a woman I like? These are just the most pressing questions to which, as a grown man in his late twenties, he has no answers. In addition, Yakov’s money is slowly running out. So the offer from his pious friend Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig) comes at the right time. For a whopping $400 he would have to watch the death of the recently deceased Mr. Litvak (Ronald Cohen), whose demented widow (Lynn Cohen) cannot do this herself.
EuroVideo Medien GmbH Just sit for a few hours and get $400 for it? That sounds like easy money for Yakov.
Even if he doesn’t really want to go back to his old environment, Yakov is happy with the apparently easy money. After all, he is only supposed to sit in the living room of the tiny house for a few hours and occasionally recite a few psalms. But Yakov has reckoned without an evil demon who, after the death of his previous host, is now urgently looking for a new body to enter…
“The Vigil” is a special movie
The story potential within the horror of demon and possession had actually already been largely grazed with the appearance of genre classics like “The Exorcist” or “Poltergeist”. Still, new titles in this genre are released almost every month – some making it to the big screen, most going straight to the home theater or streaming markets.
Unfortunately, much of this consists of relatively tired, generic repetition of familiar ideas and clichés. Yet there are always real highlights. They are either brilliantly implemented cinematically and narratively, such as the excellent “Conjuring – The Visitation”. Or they give the whole thing a fresh twist by breaking the genre rules, shifting the focus and presenting us with unusual perspectives. The last category includes “hereditary” or “paranormal activity”.
Likewise, “The Vigil” is certainly one of the positive examples worth mentioning. The reason for this is the very attractive technical and staging implementation, despite the small budget, as well as the original screenplay. Of course, as our good 3.5 star CELEBTAP review confirms, director Thomas isn’t reinventing the demonic horror wheel here. However, the American uses the time-tested mechanisms so skillfully and stylishly that the audience shudders comfortably all the time.
Free on Amazon: This disturbing horror film is based on the real deaths of over 900 (!) people
But what really sets “The Vigil” apart from the bravura (almost) one-man show of protagonist Dave Davis (“Emancipation”) from the numerous competition is the setting. For unlike the vast majority of titles of this kind, Crucifixes and the Christian Bible are not dealt with here. Instead, the characters are all attached to Hasidism, a mystical conservative movement within Judaism.
Hasidic traditions were almost wiped out on our continent with the destruction of the Jews by the Nazis. Hasidism has successfully recovered not only in Israel and the US, but also in several major cities in Western Europe, such as London, Antwerp, Zurich, Vienna, Hamburg and Berlin. Today it is even on the rise again due to the strong population growth within the communities, but nevertheless leads an existence in a conscious, strong differentiation from the rest of society.
EuroVideo Medien GmbH Yakov’s friend Reb already knows why he doesn’t want to take on the wake job himself.
As our review linked above aptly describes, “The Vigil” meets the Orthodox believers with an openness and ambivalence unusual in the realm of horror – they are not the ultimate saviors here, nor is their strict belief something that necessarily exposes them as evil . . These people are just different, with their own views, values and morals.
Mazzik, the demon in “The Vigil”, who feasts on the pain of his victims, is also different. The film manages to bridge the gap between the cramped living room where Mr. Litvak’s body is displayed, the horrors of the Holocaust and anti-Semitic attacks in our world today. Again, it’s clear that the most effective horror always comes from real horror.
“The Vigil” is a film worth watching, but certainly not an easy one, but in many ways a special one. It’s no wonder, then, that the project, which was filmed with little money – despite much critical acclaim and major festival success – failed to spark a wave of Orthodox Jewish horror tearjerkers. Nevertheless, there is at least one other interesting title in this direction: “Abyzou”, which was recently released in the USA, will soon be available for home cinema in our country. The response from the public and press in North America suggests that the film, which is apparently based on the work of Keith Thomas, could be worth checking out for fans of “The Vigil”.
Demon horror in the morgue: “Autopsy Of Jane Doe” meets “The Vigil” in the atmospheric trailer for “Abyzou”
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