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film review

The Vigil follows Yakov (Dave Davis), a former Hassid, as he accepts a position as a shomer, hired to 'sit the vigil' and watch over the body of a deceased community member.BoulderLight Pictures

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  • The Vigil
  • Written and directed by Keith Thomas
  • Starring Dave Davis, Menashe Lustig and Fred Melamed
  • Classification PG; 89 minutes

Imagine, if you will, that your lovely Jewish grandmother’s last wish on Earth is for you to learn how to make gefilte fish. Because you dearly love your Bubbe, you acquiesce and begin the arduous task of buying carp and pike and mullet, deboning the fish, grinding it, mixing it all up with breadcrumbs and eggs and veggie scraps, stuffing that mixture back into the skin of another whole fish, and then poaching the thing until it’s ready. Maybe it will taste just like you remember. Or maybe in your well-intentioned bid to honour your family and spiritual history, it will come out funky, oddly shaped and just not quite right.

With apologies to all the many Bubbes of the world, the new horror film The Vigil is the cinematic equivalent of first-timer gefilte fish. In writer-director Keith Thomas’s bid to add a layer of thematic novelty to a familiar genre, he has come up with a mish-mash that will satisfy only those with extremely acquired tastes.

Taking place in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Borough Park, the feature centres on the haunted life of a shomer – that is, a Jewish watchman who is hired to preside over a corpse overnight if there are no friends or family to do so, in order to ward off evil spirits. After the losing-his-faith Yakov (Dave Davis) is roped into the gig for quick cash, those ghosts arrive pretty quickly. Yet Thomas doesn’t have much of an idea as to what to do with them once they appear, other than deliver familiar “boo!” moments for poor ol’ Yakov.

There is a neat moment in the film where Yakov puts on a yarmulke and tefillin like he’s donning supernatural battle armour, but ultimately The Vigil squanders its potential for both scares and spiritual specificity. Your Bubbe, she would not approve.

The Vigil is available on-demand, including Apple TV/iTunes and the Google Play Store, starting Feb. 26

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.