Keith Thomas (director)
31 July 2020 (released)
The latest off the Blumhouse conveyor is one of its most interesting as it delves into Jewish death rituals and also offers a glimpse into the complications of those who have decided to leave the orthodox side of the religion.
Yakov (Dave Davis) is a young man who has decided to look beyond the orthodox and leave the Hasidic community. He’s not alone and he has joined a support group of others who also left. There’s a friendly banter as they discuss life away from the community in a mixture of English and Yiddish. Life has been tough for them encountering prejudice and for Yakov, he’s finding it hard to get work and has money problems.
As chance would have it, he is made a good cash offer by Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig) – who has been lurking outside the apartment - from community to act as the ‘shomer’ for the night before a funeral. The shomer keeps vigil over the body and acts as guardian to ward away evil. Yakov is reluctant, thinking it’s a ruse to get him to return but with little money, he has little choice but to agree and he has done it before.
The vigil is over Mr Litvak (Ronald Cohen) and in the house with him will be the widow Mrs Litvak (Lynn Cohen) who has dementia and on seeing Yakov immediately tells him to leave for his own good. It’s a disconcerting task as Mr Litvak was a holocaust survivor who married and had children though over the years he had become a recluse.
Settling in as best he can, Yakov prays and then the noises start accompanied by fading and flickering lights with shadows running across the walls. Yakov already mentally fragile calls his doctor and texts a friend from the group for support but is deceived. Venturing down into the cellar he finds a video playing of Mr Latvik relaying his experiences since the camp and that something had else had come out with him and it now has an interest in Yakov.
The original premise of the story is rather let down by the regulation jumps and frights that tend to litter these movies. Though novelist and debut screenwriter and director Keith Thomas generally does a good job creating an unsettling household to which the players are confined for the majority of the film but it does tend to labour at times.
Restricted as the film is it very much depends on the actors to take it forward and Davis is very good as the nervous lacking in self-esteem Yakov, duelling with the housebound entity and within himself about an earlier incident and whether to return to the Hasidic. Balancing this is Lynn Cohen who gives some weight to a role that could have seen her go over the top.