Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) has been part of this tight knit Jewish community in New York City since he was a boy, but an incident in his recent past has shaken him badly and now he wonders if he should be seeking different friends and connections away from the society that brought him up. To that end he attends a discussion group where Jewish people explain the experiences they have had with the non-Jewish people they have met and how stark the contrast can be, but something nags at Yakov, telling him he should not be so hasty to give up millennia of tradition because he cannot cope with a terrible tragedy. So when his rabbi (Menashe Lustig) asks him for a favour that night, he agrees - mostly because he needs the money.
But does his soul need a little wake-up call too? Does he need redemption? What is this job supposed to benefit, anyway? As the pre-credits captions tell us, Yakov has been requested to be a Shomer, which is someone who will sit through the night with a recently deceased person who the Shomer recites psalms to, all to assist in their passing from this world to the next without being claimed by any demons, or Mazzik, that may be around. For Yakov, this would appear to be the chance to doze off in a room with a corpse and get paid for it, not the best night's sleep he will ever have, but it should require the minimum of effort. However, as perhaps the rabbi is aware, this Mazzik is not necessarily a bit of folklore, and not necessarily there for the deceased.
For most of The Vigil, Davis enjoyed a one-man showcase for his talents, and if he did not set the screen ablaze with charisma then he proved a strong enough presence for something that could have been easily adapted to the theatrical stage, given the majority of it took place in a single apartment. That said, Yakov is not the sole occupant (living) of the home, as the dead man's wife (Lynn Cohen) is there too, and would have taken the Shomer role had she not been suffering from dementia and not able to carry out those duties - however, of course we wonder how compos mentis she is when she does interact with the hero, seeing as how she may know more than she lets on, either because she has her old life resurfacing or because some supernatural force is guiding her thoughts.
Now, the bane of the twenty-first century horror movie maker's life is the mobile phone, since it throws up the question, why when you're in peril don't you just call the police or someone to help? They get around it by having no signal or somehow smashing the damned things, but director Keith Thomas had a better idea as he incorporated the device into his screenplay, therefore Yakov is using his for company, but his social awkwardness means he doesn't get on with it very well, and when he does get through to someone the demon sees to it that the signal is distorted, making him feel even worse. This being a Jewish-themed chiller, there was a lot of the persecution fears about the troubled protagonist, and as we witnessed in his flashbacks they were justified, which again, doesn't make him feel any better. The idea that you have to endure a long, dark night of the soul to put your problems in perspective was well to the fore here, and as far as that went lent what was a rather basic fright show more substance than it might have otherwise. Music by Michael Yezerski.