Yakov is so broke that he can’t even afford his antipsychotic medication, so the ghosts that visit him in “The Vigil” may or may not be all in his head. He sees them anyway, through the dangerously underlit darkness of the Boro Park house that once belonged to the now dead Rubin Litvak (Ronald Cohen). Rubin has a wife, by the way, and she’s even played by tall Lynn Cohen, but that’s Yakov’s show. “The Vigil” speaks openly about his struggle to maintain a personal connection with a religion with which he has severed ties, under conditions which are only negligibly explained. But Yakov submits to these neurotic tests anyway, because “for thousands of years, religious Jews have practiced the ritual of ‘the vigil,'” as the film’s solemn opening tour tells us.
And yet: the most personal thing about “The Vigil” and its taking into account of Yakov’s feelings is how murky everything is. It’s steeped in clichés about how secular millennials see the world – they text and FaceTime with each other, sometimes in the dead of night! – and how that shapes their limited perspective.
Yakov is often literally in the dark, and his path is only sometimes lit by the words of older Jewish men like his therapist Dr. Marvin Kohlberg (Fred Melamed), who appears as a disembodied voice on the phone, and Rubin Litvak. , which appears as a silvery gray blur on an old CRTV, walking around on demons and the like. There’s also the aggressive but perhaps sincere Hasidic rabbi Shulem (Menashe Lustig), the guy who got Yakov that white elephant from a concert; Shulem essentially leaves the image once he’s got everything in place. Oh, and Mrs. Litvak, who warns Yakov that he should get out of his house, but changes his mind and says it’s too late to go out because everything inside will now follow him outside. . So, I guess it matters too.
The point being: Yakov is the guy, and we see him later when he inevitably arms himself with his tefillin, a protective link to the past (as depicted in Exodus) which he wraps around his forearm and forehead before diving deeper into the house of the Litvaks. A synthesizer score completes Yakov’s transformation and confirms his re-emergence as a vengeful hero, like the Jew Rambo, only with a leather strap instead of a Bowie knife.
This kind of paint-by-number horror story barely erases the surface of the big issues he alludes to, especially during the flashback mentioned above, which suggests that Yakov doesn’t know how to synthesize his dual identity as a Jew. and American. . Yakov presumably wants to get away from his past, but the repression is, in itself, only so interesting.