Posts Tagged ‘The Vigil (2021 film)’

What would happen if I featured my faith more in my stories? Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on Jews in the media I consume.

As you probably know, in addition to being an eldritch abomination from another universe in human form, I’m Jewish (we need faith too, you know). I’m not super-religious, but I follow many rituals and feel close to my heritage and my definition of God. But except for a couple of stories, my religion doesn’t really show in my writing. Or at least, characters who share my faith don’t show up in my stories a lot.

There could be a lot of reasons for that. Part of it could be that horror, the genre I’m drawn to and find most exciting, doesn’t necessarily need religion. Horror may draw on religious beliefs a lot, but that doesn’t mean the stories are religious. Religious elements are just tools for telling a good horror story. Also, Judaism itself isn’t really a scary religion. We don’t have a Devil or Hell, and demons and evil spirits are still subservient to God’s Will and Plan. Beyond golems and dybbuks, the biggest sources of horror for us is our history of being oppressed. And finally, I may have never felt a real need to emphasize the beliefs of my characters. It just doesn’t matter that much. Unless I need to state it, their religion is, “Whatever.”

But lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about that. It started with an essay on Variety about Jews in Hollywood and how we’re represented that brought up some good points. I’ll let you read the article yourself, but it made me aware that I don’t see many members of my faith in the media I consume. And that includes in horror. Yeah, there are some: Stan Uris in IT; Yakov Ronen in The Vigil (one of the best horror films I’ve seen yet this year); Tzadok in The Possession (played by musician Matisyahu, believe it or not); and then some.

But still, it’s a small number. And in an age with resurgent anti-Semitism, I feel like that’s something that needs to change.

Besides, I want to challenge myself. What kind of stories can I tell with a Jewish character as a lead? And not just any kind of Jew, but an amalgamation of the Jews I’ve known throughout my life, from secular to religious and old to young, from all walks of life and all types of spirituality? What if I decided, for a few stories, not to make their religions “whatever?”

Well, I actually already know the answer to that. As you probably are aware, my short story “The Divorce from God” is to appear in The Jewish Book of Horror this holiday season, and a short story in this collection I’m working on has two Jewish men as the leads. And I like to think both stories are good (I only have confirmation of one).

But what if I expand that? What if I tell more tales–not all of them, but some of them–with my fellow members of the Tribe? What if their faith is both an aspect of themselves, though not the only one, and a source of strength? What if the lead is that amalgamation I mentioned?

Well, perhaps I’ll find out sooner rather than later. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m thinking of working on another novel after I’ve finished editing this collection and a couple more stories. And while I don’t think it’s necessary for the lead, I can also see them being Jewish. It could actually fit them very well.

We’ll see what the future holds.

I look forward to the stories I write in this vein.

You know, it’s funny. At one point when I was young, a grown up tried telling me I should write less horror and more of what I know. Which at the time was mainly going to a Jewish day school, having rabbis for parents and being annoyed by my sisters. I absolutely refused, telling this well-meaning grown up “that would be boring.” I think they were worried I was going to turn out to be some psychopath who murdered people in basements and then wrote about it (we horror lovers and creators are so misunderstood!). Still, I wasn’t going to write something I wasn’t attracted to or found boring. Stories are an escape from reality, not a regurgitation!

Now I want to incorporate what I know into a horror story. I guess it’s true what they say, when people “write what they know,” they’re writing it in a completely different way than expected. I wonder that well-meaning adult would make of this now? Hopefully they’d be intrigued enough to read it (and realize I grew up much more well-adjusted than they anticipated).

Anyway, it’s late and this post has gotten insanely long. I’m going to sign off and say Shabbat Shalom, an early Happy New Year (Rosh Hashanah starts Monday evening, it’s our New Year), pleasant nightmares, and a good night. See you next time, my Followers of Fear!

Okay, technically this film is a 2019 film, but it’s being released in the States in 2021, so that’s the designation I’m going with.

Also, just a little background for my non-Jewish readers: in Judaism, it’s traditional that when someone dies, the body is constantly watched over and had Psalms recited over in order to comfort the soul of the deceased. The person doing this is known as a shomer, or a guardian. Usually this is done by friends and family of the deceased, but occasionally people are paid to be shomrim. This is all explained in the movie, I just wanted to put it upfront here.

And to complain that nobody ever hired me to be a shomer while I was job hunting. Seriously, I have experience with dead bodies and I charge reasonable rates. I would have been great at it!

Okay, onto the review. The Vigil follows Yaakov Ronen, a Jewish man who has left his ultra-Orthodox community for a more moderate style of Jewish living after a terrible tragedy befalls him. His old rabbi asks him to be a shomer for a man who has recently died. Desperate for money, Yaakov agrees, but soon finds himself up against an ancient evil that oppressed the deceased in life, and is now looking for a new victim to torment.

Wow, this movie did not disappoint. It took what could have been just regular popcorn horror movie fodder and made something really amazing out of it. Camera work and lighting is used really effectively to build a tense, creepy mood. There are these long, uncomfortable moments where we’re forced to watch as Yaakov uses his phone or gets comfortable around the body, which is laying in the living room under a shroud like something out of the Victorian era. You really get to know the folds and creases in the blanket, and it makes things creepy and disconcerting.

The monster of the movie, a Jewish demon called a mazzik,* is also well done. I’ve said this before, but showing too much of the monster can backfire on films, especially in popcorn horror films. Thankfully, the filmmakers keep the mazzik hard to see throughout the film, and that only adds to the terror. Like no matter what, you can’t truly see, let alone comprehend, this creature.

Add in some mind games right out of the movie Oculus and a couple of nods to Nightmare on Elm Street, and you’ve got one hell of a scary film.

It’s also a deeply personal film. Yaakov, played with powerful pathos by Dave Davies, is a very sympathetic character. He’s dealing with PTSD, he’s struggling with himself, his faith, and making his way through this world. The events of the film really force him to confront what he’s been dealing with and it’s amazing to watch.

I could find something to dislike with this film, but I would be nitpicking. On a scale of 1 to 5, The Vigil stands at a solid 4.2. Creepy and dark, led by a lead you can identify with, you won’t be able to turn away. The film is currently available through Amazon, so grab a seat, pour some kosher wine, and get ready for an unnervingly good time.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be back soon, believe me. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*And yes, I think we can be sure mazzik and the plural mazzikim is the source of the name for the comic book character and the character we love and adore in Lucifer.