The new horror film The Vigil embraces some familiar elements for the world of horror, though its inspiration from Judaism offers a unique perspective on the adventure that's not seen as often as Christian lore. Star Dave Davis didn't take this task likely, knowing that he not only had to offer a frightened performance, but also had to accurately convey Jewish traditions and prayers, which was made all the more difficult by spending most of his scenes entirely alone, acting against nothing but the threat of the supernatural. ComicBook.com recently participated in a press event for The Vigil to talk to Davis about his experience shooting the film. The Vigil hits select theaters, digital platforms, and VOD on February 26th.
"To build the character of Yakov, I wanted to first understand the community that he came from, and so I spent a lot of time researching the Hasidic community and meeting a lot of people who had one foot in or out of the community in various stages of belonging to the community, or having left the community or trying to leave the community and the struggles that that entails," Davis shared of establishing authenticity. "And then, as well, Yakov is going through the sorts of traumas that I think many people go through, myself included. So in that way, I just tried to delve into the loneliness associated with giving up a life, to find a new life, and to really understand the courage that Yakov needed to take such a bold step to take the journey of discovering who he was. And that was the journey that Yakov was on and a journey that I had to undertake to understand who Yakov was.
He continued, "When we were filming, I spent a lot of time alone in the apartment I was staying in, which was sparsely furnished and that gave me the space I needed to work on my dialect, and on the role, and study the script, but also to just sit in that loneliness and try to understand what Yakov was going through. I think, a lot of times when people find themselves alone, they seek to fill that silence with music or television or films. They distract themselves in one way or another. And here Yakov is in this house surrounded by his demons and surrounded by his community and the things he needs to confront. The ticking of the clock grinding at his ears. So I tried to really live in that loneliness to understand, 'What does someone hear when there's nothing to hear? What does the ticking of that clock mean to you?' When, as an actor, when you don't have another actor to work with, and all the time we're forced to listen to ourselves and to our surroundings. I tried to really not run from those fears that define me as a person, but encourage them and foster them and use them for [writer/director Keith Thomas'] film."
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 (Dave Davis) reluctantly accepts an offer from his former rabbi and confidante (Menashe Lustig) 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.
Davis so fully tapped into his character, he had the opportunity to contribute personal touches to the script to make the experience feel all the more authentic.
"The script was so beautiful and it had so much depth in it and as we kept exploring, we kept learning new things and I would come to Keith and say, 'Look at this great phrase I heard,' or 'Look at this great characterization,' or, 'What do you think of this?'" the actor expressed. "And Keith was always very open. 'I like that. I don't like this.' Or, 'Why is that important?' 'This would work perfectly in this scene versus another.' And I think we really had a lot of fun keeping it in flux and continuing to play with a lot of those things."
Bringing the film to life ended up being one of the most challenging, and most rewarding, experiences of his career.
"This is the most difficult performance I've ever had the pleasure of undertaking," Davis confessed. "It was a challenge as a character study and as a performance piece. Then it had the added difficulty of the multiple languages, so there were many challenges on set, and the physical challenges. But I think, for me, the most difficult was the emotional toll. It was finding the sorrow and the fear that Yakov was living inside of, bringing it to the point of feeling like I was almost in personal danger of losing it and then attempting to keep myself at that point until Keith was ready to film the scene, that I thought that emotion needed to be there for. And so, as a result, there were moments of great catharsis at yellings of cut and 'Okay, I think we got it.'"
He added, "It was like, 'Okay, I can let go of that feeling for a little while.' But living in that sort of pain, it was a prolonged experience and it was a challenge, but it was so rewarding. Also, in some of the more climactic scenes, the addition of the prayer and the layering of that emotion over top of traditional prayers was an extra challenge and actually reminded me of my Shakespeare days a little bit, because, I was taught that the words are just the vehicle for the emotion and, in some ways, these Jewish prayers that I've grown up hearing my whole life became the matrix to put all of this work that Keith and I had been doing for months, building this character and this emotion and this story, it became the framework that I could lay that on top of. So that was an interesting challenge to use these words that I've heard so many times and turn them into something new, a new experience, and that we can all go on with Yakov."0comments
The Vigil hits select theaters, digital platforms, and VOD on February 26th.
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