For a first-time director, Keith Thomas has demonstrated in his new film, The Vigil, an understanding of horror that established filmmakers still struggle with.

The Vigil, being released after making waves on the festival circuit, 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 vigil, Yakov begins to realize that something is very, very wrong.

In setting up Yakov’s personal battles with his faith and demons, literally, after suffering a trauma, Thomas creates a transformative story about the choices you have after you’ve suffered trauma. And with Dave Davis’s brilliant performance as Yakov, Thomas quickly sends Yakov on a descent into a night of madness with old school tools.

Shadows and light, editing, music, and especially sound, Thomas uses the tools of filmmaking to more than effectively give you an unsettling feeling to creep up your spine.

Shot on location in Brooklyn, Thomas brings the character of the old house he’s shooting into life with some brilliant use of shadow and sound and some remarkably creative camera direction. Favouring tight shots, quick edits, genuine jump scares, to keep the focus on Yakov as much as it is the small hallways of this old house.

And while, The Vigil is essentially a performance piece for Dave Davis, Mrs. Litvak, played by Lynn Cohen, the matriarch of the house the film takes place creates a performance that’s deeply unsettling as much as it is tragic.

While feeling a lot like Misery and the first Paranormal Activity with its pacing, possibly the most impressive thing that Keith Thomas has done with The Vigil is successfully entering a genre that is almost exclusively reserved for Catholicism with Judaism. And while you do get a look at the Jewish faith throughout this movie, The Vigil feels like a universal story that anyone can relate to.

While we may not have suffered trauma, we’ve all had to face our own demons, literal or otherwise. And it’s through our connection to Yakov’s struggle that pushes The Vigil into a story that well and truly resonates. Well worth 4 out of 5 stars, The Vigil will remind you why you should be afraid of the dark.