By Kat Halstead,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Supernatural horror has strong threat and language.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
A central theme is the power of memories and the importance of working through pain. Courage and empathy are also displayed.
Positive Role Models
Yakov is haunted by his past, but shows strength in character, especially when facing pressure to return to the Hasidic Jewish community. He is considered trustworthy by those around him and shows concern for both an elderly lady and the soul of her dead husband as he acts as shomer, watching over the body until dawn. Reference to Alzheimer's and mental health issues.
Violence & Scariness
Repeated flashbacks include a character being forced to shoot another and a young person being attacked and hit by a car. Death is mentioned frequently and a dead body is seen beneath a sheet. Characters fall down steps and are knocked unconscious, cut their hand on glass resulting in bloody cuts, and are set alight. Bones are seen to twist and crunch and something living is pulled from a character's mouth in body horror scenes. Strong threat is maintained for most of the movie, with flashes of demonic figures and ghostly apparitions seen. Reference is made to the Holocaust.
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Occasional use of language includes "a--hole," and derogatory terms such as "Jewboy" and "goy."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Character takes prescription pills.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Vigil is a horror movie with strong threat throughout and frightening supernatural occurrences. The story revolves around Yakov (Dave Davis), who takes a job as a shomer for a recently deceased member of the Hasidic Jewish community, watching over his body until burial. Death is mentioned frequently and the covered body is in shot for much of the film. There are several disturbing instances of body horror -- such as when a living thing is pulled from someone's mouth -- and flashbacks where characters are injured and die. The Holocaust is referenced, and mention is made of Alzheimer's, and mental health issues with one character subsequently taking prescribed pills. Some language includes "a--hole" and discriminatory terms that may offend both the Jewish and non-Jewish community. Some lines are spoken in Yiddish and Hebrew, and are subtitled, although readings from scriptures are not.
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What's the Story?
In THE VIGIL, having recently left the Hasidic Jewish community, Yakov (Dave Davis) agrees to return to keep vigil over a body for the night in order to make some much-needed money. As strange occurrences begin to take place and disturbing memories flood his mind, Yakov must journey into his own past, and that of the recently deceased, to confront personal and collective demons.
Is It Any Good?
While Christian mysticism has been mined relentlessly in the horror genre, basing a movie so completely in Jewish superstition is relatively new territory. In his first feature film, The Vigil's writer-director Keith Thomas creates an authentic setting for Davis' strong central performance to shine, maintaining a masterful naturalism while pushing the horror to just the right level.
The scares themselves are generic but well executed, all flickering lights and things that go bump in the night, with some more techno-horror thrown in for the FaceTime generation. The demon itself -- the dybbuk, with its backwards facing head and desire to feed off others' pain -- is used cleverly to represent the past and both Yakov's individual pain and the collective, historical trauma of the Jewish community. Its refusal to let Yakov leave the house drawing parallels to being unable to move on from the past or perhaps Yakov's own struggle to fully cut ties with his Hasidic roots. The stillness of the camera, tight framing, and moments of extended silence ramp up the tension, with the covered body looming in almost every shot as though biding its time. Well-crafted and strong on the psychological elements -- thanks as much to Thomas' writing as Davis' portrayal -- this is a solid horror with some interesting subtext.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the horror elements of The Vigil. Was the movie scary? Which scenes did you find most scary? What's the appeal of scary movies?
Discuss some of the language used in the movie. Did it seem necessary or excessive? What did it contribute to the plot?
What role did the past play in the story? How was it shown to be important to the present?
What were some of the techniques used to create tension? Have you seen these used in other movies?
- In theaters: February 26, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: February 26, 2021
- Cast: Dave Davis, Menashe Lustig, Malky Goldman
- Director: Keith Thomas
- Studio: IFC Midnight
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: History
- Character Strengths: Courage, Empathy
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: terror, some disturbing/violent images, thematic elements and brief strong language
- Last updated: October 8, 2022
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