The Exorcist is a masterpiece, but it certainly has a lot to answer for. The Devil Inside and Repossessed aside, it's also responsible for the Catholicization of genre cinema for over 40 years. Any supernatural horror movie you see is all crucifixes and cassocks from wall to wall. It's hard for any other religious or mythological tradition to get a word in edgewise. Among other belief systems, I've always longed for Jewish mysticism to have more time in the Hollywood sun, and The Vigil is here to answer my nondenominational prayers.

Set in the orthodox Jewish community of New York, the film follows former member Yakov Ronen (Dave Davis) who needs to pay his rent and is thus conscripted into being a Shomer for Mr. Litvak, a deceased member of his old community. He must spend the night watching over the corpse, reciting psalms to protect the body from evil. And woudn't you know it, but there's a hell of a lot of evil to protect this particular corpse from.

The Vigil

As we soon learn, a Jewish demon known as a mazik has attached itself to Litvak while he was imprisoned at Buchenwald during the Holocaust, tormenting him, his now senile wife (Lynn Cohen), and his children throughout his life. This demon in particular has a head turned around backward and loves to hitch a ride on the souls of people with traumatic memories, forcing them to stare back into the abyss of their pain. And come to think of it, Yakov might just have some delicious, irresistible bad memories of his own.

Now, The Vigil didn't even have to be good. It just had to be a religious horror movie where I didn't see the crying face of Jesus Christ even once, and I would have been immensely pleased. The fact that it is good is just the cherry on top.

Unfortunately, it's good in a very particular way that prevents it from being great, but it's still more than enough to satisfy your spooky urges. Other than specifically Jewish language and traditions, The Vigil isn't presenting a lot of material you haven't seen in a million horror films before: lurking shadows, faraway noises, spindly figures glimpsed out of the corner of your eye, and the like. Tie this all up with an ending that is oddly perfunctory, and on paper you have a satisfying crackerjack thriller but not a new classic.

The Vigil

But off paper? I was definitely feeling a tingle up my spine when I had to cross my apartment in the dark after finishing the movie. The Vigil may be pulling deeply from the well of horror clichés, but it knows how to wield them, crafting an atmosphere thick with dread from start to finish. The droning, pulsating score by Michael Yezerski will creep under your skin while the shadow-drenched cinematography by Zach Kuperstein has you gaping into every corner, your skin endlessly prickling with the inescapable sense of being watched.

Really there's no part of the movie that's lacking. Davis and Cohen deliver exactly what they need to, Davis in particular letting you into Yakov's head so deeply that you can even understand why he occasionally makes some particularly idiotic Horror Movie Decisions. And while there is a tiny smidge of what is either not-terribly-convincing CGI or an incredible puppet that perfectly captures the look of not-terribly-convincing CGI, it is used so sparingly it doesn't poke a hole in anything.

The Vigil might "only" be a jack-in-the-box after dark thriller, but damn what a delightful thing that is to be. So thank you writer-director Keith Thomas for answering my prayers. Hopefully we can continue expanding horror away from the overall Christian milieu.

Next I'm manifesting a movie about my favorite demons from the Mayan underworld of Xibalba: Ahalmez the Sweepings Demon and Ahaltocob the Stabbing Demon, who "hide in the unswept areas of people's houses and stab them to death." Fingers crossed, y'all!

Brennan Klein is a millennial who knows way more about 80's slasher movies than he has any right to. You can find his other reviews on his blog Popcorn Culture. Follow him on Twitter, if you feel like it.