Keith Thomas got the idea for The Vigil when he was at a synagogue and overheard two men discussing a shomer who fled his post.
In Jewish tradition, a shomer is a man who watches over the body of a deceased person from the time of death until burial. In The Vigil, Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis), reluctantly agrees to serve as a shomer in Brooklyn’s Borough Park. But over the course of his overnight vigil, Yakov encounters a demonic entity, known in Jewish lore as a Mazzik.
Thomas, who was a religious education Masters student, says he set out to make an authentically Jewish horror film when he realized how few of them there were. Though he wanted The Vigil to be as grounded as possible, he stresses that it is first and foremost a horror film, with scares that are rooted in character.
Check out our exclusive The Vigil clip above. Thomas matched practical lighting, when possible, with practical effects and vintage lenses to help audiences feel Yakov’s growing dread.
“This scene comes from a turning point towards the end of the film,” Thomas says. “Yakov has finally ventured into the darkness upstairs, where he is encountering Mrs. Litvak (Lynn Cohen). The opening lines you’re hearing, ‘Where is your husband now?’ will take on significant weight and creepiness when you see the whole film.
“The setting is very dark, lit only by practical lighting, to create a sort of inner-chamber/the flame-lit heart of the house. We shot the film using vintage lenses, and you can see the distortion when the camera pans. All of the effects in the film are practical, and a lot of the atmosphere here comes from careful staging and lighting effects. This scene will build to a dramatic crescendo that leads to a confrontation with our demonic entity.”
The Vigil, written and directed by Keith Thomas, is now in theaters and available on VOD.