Video Interview: Director Keith Thomas and Star Dave Davis on Jewish Folklore and Ancient Terror in THE VIGIL

After premiering in TIFF’s Midnight Madness section, The Vigil turned heads over at IFC Midnight who will now be distributing the film. Told over the course of one night where an afflicted man named Yakov (Dave Davis) must watch over a body who may have been cursed by an ancient demon, Keith Davis’ first film is expertly crafted. The Vigil provides a new doorway into the world of the afterlife through Jewish legends and Orthodox mythology while still providing plenty of familiar scares.

At a recent press conference, Dread Central spoke with director Keith Thomas and star Dave Davis to discuss the lore behind the film, the different lenses we see pop culture through, and the possibility of more stories focusing on Jewish folklore involving dybbuks, golems, and Lilith – the first vampire.

Davis is still set to remake Firestarter with Blumhouse and Universal sometime in the near future and we’re all pretty excited for that one over here.

Check out the video interview below and other excerpts from the press conference below!

Synopsis: Steeped in ancient Jewish lore and demonology, The Vigil is a supernatural horror film set over the course of a single evening in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Borough Park neighborhood. Low on funds and having recently left his insular religious community, Yakov reluctantly accepts an offer from his former rabbi and confidante to take on the responsibility of an overnight “shomer,” fulfilling the Jewish practice of watching over the body of a deceased community member. Shortly after arriving at the recently departed’s dilapidated house to sit the vidil, Yakov begins to realize that something is very, very wrong.

Related Article: THE VIGIL Review – Familiar if Frightening Jewish Horror Fable

The below interview was taken from a press conference with a handful of journalists and has been edited slightly for clarity.

Dread Central: One of the things that I thought was really potent about the film was the sound design. It really created a sense of place. I was curious if you could speak a little about the methodology behind that and the meticulousness with which you crafted that.

Keith Thomas: We were very lucky in that we got a really great group together in terms of the sound design and then the score and how those two things melded together. I knew from the very beginning, given the budget this film would have and the horror genre in general, that sound was going to be huge in it. I mean it came from a very sort of natural place. I spent a lot of time just alone listening to the house or to whatever environment you’re in and it’s crazy how sound plays such a huge role in emotions you feel. Especially fear.

So the sound design was a crucial piece. I wrote it into the script as much as I could in terms of trying to evoke the mood. While we were filming, it was definitely a thing of just keeping it cognizant, what we’re hearing. Like the clock that you hear is a real clock. Just whatever’s on set, just the atmospherics, just the sounds of the space. Part of building scares and building tension is kind of tweaking those noises. As a kid when I’d watch horror films, if I plugged my ears it was half as scary.

Dave Davis: A lot of that was baked into the script from the beginning. Even my first read through, I was able to pull up Spotify and pull up some of the song choices that Keith had planned. As a result, from the very beginning, I was able to sit in the sound of that world that Keith was creating.

The Vigil. Courtesy of IFC Midnight.

DC: I wanted to first give a shout out to my friend Nati Rabinowitz who was in the first opening scenes. I remember when we first met, he was saying that he didn’t get to see a lot of movies growing up and is now watching all the classics that he missed. I don’t know what your backgrounds were like but how strict were your families? Were you also not allowed to watch some films that now have probably guided you as a filmmaker and as an actor?

KT: Yeah, in terms of me I suppose I was lucky in some ways in that I could watch whatever I wanted. It was interesting growing up, I think a lot of what my folks wanted me to see was educational which is normal so I watched a lot of PBS. Nature shows, nature documentaries, that sort of stuff. Which I actually quite liked and still like today. So that was the TV. But when it came to movies and we’d go to the video store and rent something, I kind of had free rein. My brother and I, and we would just go through the entire horror section. We’d go through the whole sci-fi section. A lot of that stuff very early on it just sank its claws into my brain in terms of creative process. A L I E N was a touch point for me. I saw it maybe too young, I don’t know I was probably ten. It was terrifying but beautiful. It was just so beautiful, the look and the feel and the atmosphere of that film.

Then in terms of The Vigil, it’s interesting a lot of the films that very much influenced my approach to it were films that I saw when I was young. One being Jacob’s Ladder that was aesthetically a film that just really spoke to me. There’s also a European film called Possession from 1981 that has this atmosphere that…not even a knife could cut it. You’d need a chainsaw to cut the atmosphere in that film.

DD: I think I watched the movie IT when, also, I was too young and I think I didn’t go to the bathroom with the door closed for about a month after that. I kept expecting someone to crawl out of the sink. I was fortunate that I was able to explore different worlds through film when I was young. Through the people I met researching for this film, that was really a powerful entry point for me in understanding the differences in the way we were raised. I don’t remember if it was Nati or who it was but someone told me that their first way into American film was watching, I forget what it’s called, but the Britney Spears movie on an iPod Nano in the park. And he was like, ‘That was an incredible cinematic piece.’ And I remember thinking, ‘What?’ That’s so different than the entry point that I had and just learning how that was the beginning. Ok now, Nati is a total film buff. It was just a different way to experience the same culture and how does that inform us as people?

דיבוק. Courtesy of IFC Midnight.

DC: It’s funny that you guys mentioned It and Possession even though there are other two films called It! and The Possession that really have a lot of Jewish folklore influence. There’s so much influence in horror, even American Werewolf in London. Are there other Jewish folk horror tales you’d like to tell Keith or are you planning to continue exploring folklore in films like Firestarter or other projects?

KT: Yeah, I mean I definitely have a lot of ideas of other Jewish horror. It’s definitely kind of a well that’s not been tapped, really. We’ve seen dybbuk’s in films. Typically, the setup for a dybbuk is a family that’s usually not Jewish finds a dybbuk box and unleashes a dybbuk. I think there’s more interesting ways into a dybbuk story that we haven’t seen particularly around exorcisms which do exist in some communities in the Jewish faith. Golems haven’t gotten their fair swing.

But also I’ve got a film idea for Lilith which is typically the kind of succubus thing that people picture. But in the Jewish faith there are many Liliths. It’s actually plural: Lilithine. They’re not always succubuses, they have very different approaches to what they are. So, I think that it’s fertile ground and something that the producers of The Vigil and I have talked about a lot in terms of what else do we tell. Where do we go? So, yeah, no it’s exciting and it feels like The Vigil kind of opened a door to some of that stuff.

DC: Anything Lilith I’m on board for.

The Vigil opens in theaters and VOD February 26 from IFC Midnight.



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