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Review: The Nice House on the Lake #2

The Nice House on the Lake #2
The Nice House on the Lake #2

The first issue of James Tynion and Álvaro Martínez Bueno’s The Nice House on the Lake set up an end of the world scenario with a huge cast and a mysterious host at the center of it, all of them weathering the apocalypse inside a well-stocked house. The people who were spared the final moments of human existence are all in shock come issue #2 of the series, and they’re in a mad scramble for answers.

Us readers can only be certain of one thing once the second part of the story has reached its final page: Tynion and Martínez Bueno are still on their way to give us one of the best new comic series of the year.

The Nice House on the Lake #2 puts its cast of characters through the wringer as they try to make some sense of how the world just decided to self-combust and melt almost everyone not on the house with them. Emotions run high and there’s a sense of disconnection among the guests. Reality as they knew it just stopped and anything that comes after the event is now going to be post-apocalyptic. Not an easy realization to come to.

Tynion and Martínez Bueno employ a few different techniques to the storytelling here to shake things up while also building the world their characters inhabit. For instance, the comic contains several pages that unravel as an official log of things said during certain moments immediately after the world seemingly ended. This presents the possibility some kind of secret group or organization is behind it all, perhaps torturing or experimenting with the people at the house for reasons unknown.

This is one of the series’ strong suits, guiding readers to make dark assumptions on what’s actually happening. In a sense, the horror on display in the comic is being driven by elements more commonly found in the Mystery genre. There’s a bit of a “whodunnit” at play here and it helps make the comic an even richer and more complex mystery box in the process.

Martínez Bueno’s art continues to impress in issue #2, presenting everything and everyone in a kind of haze that just deepens the horror being experienced by everyone in the house. It helps that Martínez Bueno also proves to have complete control over the characters’ body language. It’s theatrical, to a point, in terms of making the reader take everything into account to get a better sense of the story.

The Nice House on the Lake #2
The Nice House on the Lake #2

The Nice House on the Lake is an intoxicating read, period. It’s hard to stop pouring over each panel, each line of dialogue trying to figure everything out. Issue #2 gives readers enough story to keep them hooked while also teasing so much more horror to come. The monthly wait is starting to get difficult, and I can only see it getting harder to hold out till the next chapter.

Story: James Tynion, Art: Álvaro Martínez Bueno, Colors: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: DC Black Label
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy, read, read it again, come up with multiple theories, repeat

Purchase: comiXologyKindleZeus ComicsTFAW

Review: Werewolves Within pokes fun at American politics and sneaky lycans, in that order

Werewolves Within
Werewolves Within poster

Imagine a werewolf story where the coming of the full moon is the least of the main character’s worries given he’s surrounded by a group of people more invested in the construction of a pipeline than the prospect of being torn to shreds by a lycanthrope. That, in a nutshell, is Werewolves Within, directed by Josh Ruben and written by Mishna Wolff.

Based on the VR game of the same name, Werewolves Within centers on a group of people forced to stay together under a single roof, during a snowstorm, just as a series of grizzly happenings have scared everyone into thinking a werewolf is loose on the small town of Beavertown.

The story unravels like a game of Clue, where every character is a suspect, only in this case the suspicion revolves around the identity of the werewolf. And yet, the movie takes a sharp turn into oddball political paranoia, in which each suspect is a unique caricature of American politics that makes them as predictable as they are dangerous. It’s as if everything is split between party lines, right down to the way the group should go about solving the mystery.

The main divide that pits each character against each other is the potential construction of a pipeline through the natural beauty that surrounds Beavertown. A bullyish, macho oil man is all for the pipeline and is trying to get as many residents to his side as possible while an environmentalist, a forest ranger, a mailperson, the owner of the local inn, and a rich gay couple stand it total opposition to it.

Werewolves Within
Werewolves Within

A woman with small business aspirations (and a cute small dog called Chachi), her creepy grabby husband, and a money-hungry couple are all for the pipeline. Alliances are drawn from each side’s prejudices against the other and that’s where the movie finds its groove.

Werewolves Within’s two main leads, Finn and Cecily (played by Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub respectively), are the glue that keeps everything together. Finn is Beavertown’s new forest ranger and Cecily is the town’s mailperson. Their chemistry carries an undeniable pull that immediately places them as people worthy of trust in case of a werewolf crisis. They’re easy to root for, which makes all the violence around them bite that much harder.

What’s smart about the two leads is that they function as balancing agents, towing the line between the left-leaning suspects and the pro-pipeline right-wingers. To be clear, I don’t believe the movie is a right-wing bashing free-for-all where the more liberal camp comes out as the clear winner. Each side is a caricature of itself and the movie invites making fun of everyone.

You might’ve already noticed I haven’t mentioned the werewolf that much. There’s a reason for that, but I’ll let the movie do the talking on that front. I’ll say this, the direction they take it in is whip-smart and well worth the many twists and turns the movie throws at its audience at nearly every turn.

Werewolves Within is a remarkable satire of our current political climate and it uses horror conventions just as well as it subverts them to make it stand out. It serves a higher purpose and it’s all the better for it. It has quite a few tricks up its sleeves, and you’ll laugh hard through each one as you try to figure who is and who isn’t an asshole. I mean, who is or who isn’t a werewolf.

New CANDYMAN trailer teases a whole hive of angry Candymen

For a villain as iconic as Candyman, whose status remains in effect thanks to Tony Todd’s timeless performance, finding a new actor to play the character is a daunting task. The challenge lies in finding someone that can honor and add to the iconic status of the character while also embodying him. Jackie Earle Haley, for instance, tried his hand at it by becoming Freddy Krueger in the 2010 reboot of Nightmare on Elm Street. While Haley turned in a great performance, the movie itself didn’t live up to expectations and the new Freddy seemed to become dimmer in the process, not to mention that there was something missing about the updated version.

Nia DaCosta’s 2021 interpretation of Candyman looks like it’s eager to avoid comparisons and unrealistic expectations by not sticking to a single manifestation of the monster. Instead, it’s going for several manifestations of the character at once by placing black victims of police violence and brutality as potential candidates for the now shared title.

The movie’s latest trailer goes as far as to confirm that the idea is to turn the monster into a kind of vessel that finds its life source in the people American culture has wronged the most. Much like the original 1992 movie, the new Candyman comes as a dark response to the racial conditions of its time.

For the ‘92 Candyman, it was the lack of support for the more “urban” sections of cities and then the misrepresented idea that illegal activity was a legitimate and natural character trait of low-income black neighborhoods.

The 2021 Candyman seems to be powered by a Black Lives Matter perspective that frames police misconduct as the primary creator of Candymen. That, in itself, does enough to put the latest iteration of the story in a spot where the original concept is allowed to continue coursing through the movie’s veins while also injecting a healthy dose of new horrors to turn the experience into something different.

Candyman poster

As a horror fan, this has to be one of the anticipated horror movies in recent years. It has a world of possibilities riding on it and it can inspire a new generation of black horror that can continue to challenge the bad things that turn victims into dark forces of retribution.

Candyman opens in theaters on August 27, 2021.

Review: The Nice House on the Lake #1

Go into this comic with as little knowledge of it as possible. The Nice House on the Lake #1 is as good as everyone says.

Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Álvaro Martínez Bueno
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Andworld Design

Get your copy now! To find a comic shop near you, visit http://www.comicshoplocator.com or call 1-888-comicbook or digitally and online with the links below.


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Review: The Nice House on The Lake #1

The Nice House on the Lake #1

James Tynion IV has been doing career-defining horror work as of late, with books like Something is Killing The Children, his self-published horror anthology Razorblades, and The Department of Truth standing as prime examples of what the idea of “new horror” should truly stand for. Among those books, though, it’s his most recent one, The Nice House on The Lake, that might end up being his most unsettling. It could even result in becoming his greatest work should the entire story capitalize on the dark promises made in its first issue.

Co-created with artist Álvaro Martínez Bueno, The Nice House on The Lake concerns itself with a group of eleven people who have been invited to a luxurious house by a mysterious figure called Walter that’s acquired their friendship and acquaintance over the years. It’s supposed to be a long weekend, but something will keep them in place for a long time.

Walter is obsessed with the end of the world. Not the why, necessarily, but the how. With that macabre interest leading the way, what transpires in the story’s first chapter is the culmination of Walter’s apocalyptic desires and the beginning of a terrifying new status quo that marks a point of no return for humanity. That is, except for the select few currently staying at the house.

There’s a substantial amount of story packed into this first issue. Not only do Tynion and Martínez Bueno set up the conditions through which the end of world becomes a reality, it introduces a large cast of characters all with their own distinct look and personality. There’s a sense of purpose to each character’s presence as well, as if they’re meant to play a special role in the proceedings.

Each character is presented via title card that includes their assigned role—be it The Writer or The Painter—and the specifics of their first encounters with Walter. The style in which this is presented reminded me of Dungeons & Dragons character creation cards, minus the stats. Eleven characters might feel like a lot, but the cards are quite helpful in keeping tabs on everyone and I suggest you keep the first issue handy while reading upcoming issues to stay on track with what everyone’s doing.

The Nice House on the Lake #1

While there are more than enough clues as to where the story will go in future instalments, The Nice House on The Lake does seem to be settling in for an extended stay in the titular house. Martínez Bueno wastes not a single panel producing stunning images of the house and its surroundings. There’s an air of House on Haunted Hill (1959) about it and how it stands alone overlooking everything below it. Martínez Bueno imbues the structure with a heavy sense of dread that’s as inviting as it is ominous, excessive as it is threatening.

Fans of the exceptionally sinister horror movie The Invitation (2015) will find a lot to love here as well. Directed by Karyn Kusama, the movie follows a man who’s invited to a friendly get-together only to discover there’s a violent agenda shared among some of the guests. It’s one of the most disturbing movies in recent years and its isolated house of horrors setup shares certain similarities with Tynion and Martínez’s story. I highly recommend The Invitation, especially as a good companion piece to the comic in terms of how it manages to capture an acute sense of dread that’s also present in The Nice House on The Lake.

The Nice House on the Lake #1

The Nice House on The Lake has arrived with the intent of reaching deep within our souls in search of that primal fear that entertains the end of the world. Surprises abound and new horror concepts push the comic into uncharted waters. The first issue alone carries enough fear to scare readers into following the entire series all while questioning just how they would react knowing the end of the world has finally left the realm of imagination and violently entered the confines of reality.

Writer: James Tynion IV Art: Álvaro Martínez Bueno Colors: Jordie Bellaire Letterer: AndWorld Design
Script: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10

Recommendation: Buy, watch The Invitation, and start prepping your doomsday stash

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Review: The Conjuring: The Lover #1

The Conjuring: The Lover #1
The Conjuring: The Lover #1

The closest thing Horror has to a Marvel Universe, as of the time of this writing, is The Conjuring universe. It’s a fascinating development, how a horror franchise that claims to be based on true events has carved a space for itself in the crowded shared universe arena. From Annabelle to The Nun, each film adds to the number of evil entities that inhabit its world while showing how they can later influence future hauntings. Naturally, each new nightmare requires its own story, a circumstance that led to the horror series’ first foray into comics in the form of The Conjuring: The Lover.

Written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Rex Ogle, with Garry Brown (Babyteeth) on art, The Conjuring: The Lover #1 follows a college student named Jessica that is struggling to make her college grades match her mother’s expectations while also dealing with romantic frustrations, loneliness, and a dark entity that’s taken an interest in her. Clearly, Jessica isn’t having much fun in college.

Whether it’s an actual person conjuring evil spirits to oppress Jessica or an inhuman thing out to make her suffer remains to be seen, but the comic captures that sense of dread horror can excel at by presenting Jessica as an already conflicted character that’s ripe for the taking by someone or something that wants to corrupt her.

The script is smart enough to pace the scares out accordingly, without leaning too heavy on the terror in this first issue. There’s the promise of paranormal activity, but just what it is that’s lurking in the shadows isn’t revealed yet and it makes for a more engrossing read. It helps that Jessica’s own personal demons are ever-present as well. Her fears and anxieties feed into the atmosphere the comic creates and offers a kind of hint as to what will latch onto her very being.

Garry Brown’s pencils prove to be adept at capturing the finer details in horror so as to allow the power of suggestion to guide readers into filling in the dark spaces. It invites close inspection of the comics page. I was always on the lookout for a ghost hand creeping around a corner or a set of yellow eyes dimly glowing deep within the shadows. Brown is flexing all the right muscles here and is letting everyone know he can do horror with the best of them.

The Conjuring: The Lover #1

The Conjuring: The Lover #1 also includes a back-up story written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Denys Cowan centered on one of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s old cases, titled “The Ferryman.” It’s a brief but well executed homage to classic horror that follows a boy that steals a coin from the corpse of an old woman during a funeral service. By violating the unwritten rules of an ancient practice that secures a dead person’s passage into the afterlife, the character goes through the motions of a lifelong haunting that stands as a lesson to readers on the dangers of messing with the business of the dead.

And then there are the short fake ads for haunted and possessed items. They resemble the ads found in old horror magazines, but they’re given here a darkly comedic twist in which the punchline lies not just in the sales pitch but also in the fine print. They’re illustrated by Dave Johnson and are so fun to read that I wish Johnson would make an entire book based on these fake ads.

The Conjuring universe has a very successful first outing in its hands with “The Lover.” It comes off as an organic extension of the franchise and its own brand of horror. There’s a lot to look forward to in each issue knowing just how much is squeezed into one comic. It’s quite the horror package and it feels as if it can’t wait to show us even more terrible things for our viewing pleasure.

Writers: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Rex Ogle, Scott Snyder
Art: Garry Brown, Denys Cowan, Dave Johnson
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0
Recommendation: Buy and pray that demon Nun doesn’t go to the same church as you do.

Purchase: comiXologyKindleZeus Comics

The Conjuring: The Lover #1

The Conjuring prequel comic will usher in the new ‘DC Horror’ label

The Conjuring: The Lover

With The Conjuring having its feet firmly planted in its own universe, it’s only natural comics got the opportunity to flesh out the franchise’s particular brand of terror. DC Comics has answered the call to do so with the launch of a new imprint called ‘DC Horror,’ which will premiere with a prequel comic to the latest entry in The Conjuring franchise subtitled The Devil Made Me Do It.

The series, titled The Conjuring: The Lover, will run for five issues and will set up the events that lead into The Devil Made Me Do It. It’s co-written by the film’s screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and author Rex Ogle (Death of Wolverine: Life After Logan), with art by Garry Brown (Babyteeth) and colors by Chris Sotomayor.

The story follows Jessica, a college freshman, returning to campus after winter break, that’s dealing with the anxieties of mounting schoolwork and grades, a sexual encounter with a guy she’s now regretting, and the odd feeling she’s being watched by something.

The idea shares some elements with that of The Exorcism of Emily Rose movie, in which the titular character starts manifesting “possession” symptoms while in college, throwing every single aspect of her life into disarray. In a sense, it’s fitting that the story echoes that of the aforementioned movie given its basis on real events, something it shares with The Devil Made Me Do It.

The Conjuring: The Lover

The third entry in The Conjuring series is based on the first legal case in American history to have a defendant claim innocence due to demonic possession at the time of the crime. The Exorcism of Emily Rose, on the other hand, is also based on the true story of Annaliese Michel, who underwent 67 exorcism rites in a year, which eventually led to her death. The cause of death was attributed to malnutrition. Her parents and the priest that conducted the exorcism were convicted of negligent homicide in the case.

How much of this case actually inspired (or not) The Conjuring: The Lover remains to be seen, but the premise promises a story worthy of the name that graces its cover. Additionally, The Lover will feature short back-up stories written by some of horror comics most popular creators, including Scott Snyder, Juan Ferreyra, Che Grayson, and Denys Cowan. These stories will focus on the haunted objects that resided in Lorraine and Ed Warren’s infamous artifact room (which is where they kept the Annabelle doll).

It bears mentioning that this new horror imprint might be riding on the shoulders of Joe Hill’s own recent horror imprint, Hill House Comics, which was headlined by Hill’s own Basketful of Heads comic, illustrated by Leomacs. The series that were published as part of the imprint received mostly universal praise and felt as if they belonged in the same habitat as DC’s classic House of Mystery comics.

The Conjuring: The Lover

DC editor-in-chief Marie Javins seems to be aware of this connection. In a statement she released on the new horror imprint, Javins said that “DC has always been the home of great horror comics and characters. DC Horror continues this tradition with new frightening tales from both well-known and new storytellers that will keep fans spooked and entertained.”

With The Conjuring possessing a well-established horror universe and DC recognizing the weight horror carries within its company’s history, it looks like this year is shaping up to be a good one for both veteran and emerging horror fans. The potential behind the new imprint for pulling in new readers, especially in the wake of Hill House’s success, seems to lean favorably towards success.

One thing’s for sure, if this move inspires other publishers to invest in their own horror imprints, they’ll be able to say ‘DC made me do it.’

The Conjuring: The Lover arrives in comic book stores and on participating digital platforms the same day as the U.S. release of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It—Tuesday, June 1, 2021, with issue #2 available on July 6, 2021.

Review: Lovesickness- Junji Ito Story Collection

Content warning: suicide


Junji Ito is probably my favorite manga creator, and he is a master of finding terror in the everyday escalating normal situations into something resembling cosmic horror. And that continues to be the case in his new collection Lovesickness, which features the titular story as well as two “Strange Hizikuri Siblings stories and three unrelated horror yarns. Ito dips into every day problems like wanting to be loved or desired, family conflict, and even being stuck a job that literally takes over your life and turns them up to eleven with imagery that will scar your psyche.

A big chunk of this story collection is the Junji Ito horror serial, “Lovesickness”, which is about a foggy town obsessed with fortune telling at crossroads. Basically, you can’t cross the street without a girl covering her face and asking you if she’ll find love or if the cute boy at school likes her. The protagonist, Ryusuke, is thrust into this world as his family returns to the town he lived in as a kid, and he rekindles relationships with some of his childhood friends, including his crush Midori and another girl Suzue. However, “Lovesickness” isn’t a relationship drama or a cute romance, but a visual striking and horrifying story that takes “falling in love will kill you” to its literal extent.

“Lovesickness” is a true masterpiece in atmosphere and escalation. Ito creates tension through wind-swept lines of fog that obscure the people that Ryusuke, Midori, and other supporting characters run into. It’s also a great visual metaphor for the secrets surrounding Ryusuke and the “beautiful boy at the crossroads” that is telling girls to end their lives because they will never be loved. This reminds Ryusuke of an incident in the past when he brushed off Midori’s aunt when she wanted her fortuned told, which led to her committing suicide as well as the death of her unborn child. There is definitely an air of death around Ryusuke throughout “Lovesickness”, and he is pale and withdrawn even if he never becomes like the walking corpses who haunt his town.


Speaking of walking corpses, Junji Ito ramps up the level of danger as well as mystery in the later chapters by seeding in situations where Ryusuke thinks he’s the beautiful boy at the crossroads. Ito fills the page with speed lines and images of blood-splattered women taking revenge on the man that preyed on their weakness at a difficult times in their lives. “Lovesickness” progresses from more atmospheric horror to jump scares and bodies filling the street and the page, but there is a kernel of hope in the midst of the tragedy even if Ito draws parallels between Romeo and Juliet in the relationship between Midori and Ryusuke. This story actually ends up having a good moral in the midst of all the gore and frightening imagery, and Junji Ito gives Ryusuke an arc as he tries to make amends for his past failings. Throw in some satire about celebrity culture, relatable insights into the anxiety of moving to an old/new place, and yet another creepy, obsessive town, and “Lovesickness” is a solid start to this collection of horror stories.

“Lovesickness” is followed by a series of short stories featuring a kooky, creepy family that would make the Addams Family blush. They’re called the “Strange Hizikuri Siblings” and are a group of five siblings named Narumi, Kizuya, Kinako, Shigoro, Hitoshi and Misako, who live together after their parents’ passing. Junji Ito gives them each a distinct design, personality, and even verbal tics with Hitoshi coming off as a fairly normal young kid while Misako runs and acts like a cat sneering and teasing her siblings. The stories featuring the Hizikuri siblings are Ito doing horror comedy like a great sequence in “Narumi’s Boyfriend” where each family member comes up with a gruesome way to kill the man that Narumi has moved in with, and Hitoshi just deadpans that she shouldn’t see her boyfriend any more. This story is basically making life a living hell for nice, normal Kotani and dramatic Narumi, and it wraps up with a necrophilia joke. Junji Ito being both transgressive and funny is a good time, and “Strange Hizikuri Siblings” definitely isn’t filler to pad out Lovesickness and still features horror elements like creepy eyes and facial expressions and a haunted house chase sequence.

The second Strange Hizikuri Siblings story is called the “Seance”, and the basic premise is that the siblings are holding a seance so that their youngest sister Misako will stop throwing rage fits and slashing up the youngest brother Hitoshi’s face. The oldest brother Kizuya also wants to impress his crush (Who already has a boyfriend) Sachiyo, who tries to photograph the spirit world. Junji Ito combines dysfunctional family drama with a touch of the paranormal and little bit of the farcical in this story setting up Kizuya as a terrible person who only pretends to work and uses his role as the eldest brother to abuse and insult his siblings. This story is filled with moments that are both disgusting and clever as Ito manipulates the expectations of both believers and skeptics of the supernatural throughout “Seance”. His art hits that Evil Dead II aesthetic of something being scary or funny depending on the context. I definitely won’t forget the big reveal in this story for a while as well as the Strange Hizikuri Siblings whose lack of decorum in an eerie setting make for a great bit of splatter horror/comedy.

Lovesickness concludes with three standalone horror stories, “The Mansion of Phantom Pain”, “The Rib Woman”, and “Memories of Real Poop”. “The Mansion of Phantom Pain” takes the medical concept of phantom pain to extend to an entire large house as a young man named Kozeki is hired to help run around the mansion of a wealthy family and soothe their son’s pain while the son’s father and other workers are basically dying from sepsis. The concept might seem farcical, but Junji Ito uses thick dark lines and waves to show how much Kozeki and his fellow workers suffer transforming and live-in healthcare job into a nightmare. “Phantom Pain” is a unique take on the haunted house story and also has a running theme of tension between social classes as these working class people must risk life and limb and literally die while working for something that is probably imaginary. “The Rib Woman” takes aim at body dysmorphia when its protagonist wishes she looked like her classmate, a beauty queen and goes to a quite sketchy plastic surgeon to get one of her ribs removed. Junji Ito channels the anxieties crafted by the beauty and diet industries through creepy side effects and the appearance of a character that symbolizes the consequences of the classmate’s plastic surgery. A story that starts as a day at the beach erupts into chaos with bones flying everywhere. Finally, “Memories of Real Poop” is a very short, slight story about a boy who buys what he thinks is fake poop in front of his friends and gets secondhand embarrassment from it. It’s definitely the weakest of the Ito stories in this collection, but fits with the gross-out approach to horror in “Seance”.

Lovesickness features yet another Junji Ito horror epic in the story that shares a name with a title, but it also shows off his gift for dark humor in “The Strange Hizikuri Siblings”, Gothic horror with a late capitalist twist in “The Mansion of Phantom Pain”, and social commentary with jarring images in “The Rib Woman”. It’s yet another example how he’s the master of building up his plots from regular to horrifying and finding the monstrous in all of us from ordinary people looking for love to sociopathic siblings and even workaholics and beauty queens.

Story: Junji Ito Art: Junji Ito
Story: 8.4 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.7 Recommendation: Buy

Viz Media provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Movie Review: The Vigil turns Jewish folklore into claustrophobic horror

Much has been said about how The Vigil ventures into Jewish folklore to create a truly genuine Jewish horror story. The movie accomplishes this convincingly and it’s nothing short of impressive, especially when one considers how much of it happens almost exclusively in a small house setting.

The Vigil is a very focused horror movie. It takes place in a small Hasidic household that hides more secrets than one thought possible along with a Jewish entity known as the Mazzik (from the Hebrew word mazikeen which translates into “damager” or “destroyer”). A member of the Orthodox Jewish community has passed away and a man called Yakov Ronen (played by Dave Davis) is asked to become the body’s shomer from midnight to early morning, a religious responsibility that entails acting as the deceased’s watchman. He’s supposed to care for the dead man’s soul as it crosses over.

The Vigil
The Vigil

Complications arise as we learn Yakov has recently left the Hasidic community after a traumatizing experience. In the process, his faith has been broken, leaving him somewhat isolated while in the process of dealing with his separation from the life he’s always known.

Director Keith Thomas, who also wrote the film’s script, decided to cram as much as possible into the story to create a fully realized nightmare specific to the Jewish experience. The intention is to get at the terror behind trauma, memory, and the unknown.

It all speaks to Thomas’ ambitiousness and drive to create an authentic Jewish horror film by fully committing to the culture behind its subject matter. The film goes as far as shooting on location at Williamsburg and Borough Park, two places known for their Hasidic populations, to capture as much as possible from the community that hovers around the main character.

The Vigil

Despite these elements being put firmly in place for maximum narrative effect, what makes The Vigil intriguing is its decision to keep to an enclosed place as it makes Yakov relive his traumas just as the house’s cursed memories start spilling out.

The small, two-story house the story takes place in carries itself like an old and bruised place, overtaken by shadows that seem to only recede in dimly lit spots. Light sources themselves are tinged with opaque reds and greens, making everything seem somewhat shapeless. It makes for a location that comes across as ill-intentioned, persistent in boxing in its chosen victim with no escape in sight.

Thomas uses this to his advantage and amplifies it by keeping the camera close to Yakov. And yet, there’s always enough space left over to peer into the background and see if something unnatural moves closer to him. It allows for a heightened sense of tension and dread to build up and it results in some great scares.

Dave Davis makes the entire experience work with his measured and tortured performance as Yakov. His fear is palpable, but so is the pain he carries. The house and its entity put Yakov inside a black hole of fresh wounds and traumatic memories, all concerning his decision to leave the community he’s currently back in for the night, in spite of his best efforts.

Davis lets the viewer in on his character’s suffering and makes him infinitely relatable, even in the face of his character’s specific cultural traits. The house’s lack of big open spaces creates the eerie sensation one is also trapped inside it with Yakov, making us feel the same claustrophobic terror he’s engulfed in.

Jewish horror
The Vigil

In this regard, The Vigil reminded me in parts of Scott Derickson’s Sinister. That movie’s demon also turned the house setting into a place where memories and hard life choices became things an evil entity could feed on. It exposed them and turned them into nightmares of their own. The Vigil showcases a similar approach to its horror, basically turning the house into a representation of the character’s fractured psyche.

In the middle of all this, the movie also finds a way to comment on antisemitism—from the Holocaust all the way to more modern forms of it—but not in a way that feels heavy-handed or forced. It’s presented as a constant that doesn’t need to rear its head on-screen to remind viewers of its existence, but it’s present enough to also play a role in creating its own sense of claustrophobia for whose who are victims of it.

The entity that attacks Yakov, both spiritually and mentally, is cleverly allowed to be seen in key moments so as to not allow the film to be solely consumed by its metaphors. The Vigil has a lot of things to say, but they don’t get in the way of making sure the movie also gives its audience a proper horror experience. The Jewish demon is memorable and is given the full weight of myth and history to have it embody a kind of evil that is ancient but still relevant.

The Vigil
The Vigil

The Vigil succeeds at making each story beat and horror sequence correspond organically with its Jewish folklore influences and elements. The demon, the house’s haunted memories, and the trauma are all specific to the Jewish experience, but they never close the door on audiences from other cultural backgrounds so they can relate to the horrors on display. It’s claustrophobic and it actively tries not to make anyone feel safe within its story, all attributes of a great horror movie.

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