HORROR; 1hr 29min (English, Yiddish with subtitles)
STARRING: Dave Davis, Menashe Lustig, Lynn Cohen
Unholy light: Davis
When an emotionally rocky young man (Davis as Yakov) is approached by a rabbi (Lustig) to babysit a corpse for the night, you’d think his obvious answer would be, “Wait—what? No! ”
You’d be dead wrong, so to speak, for a couple of reasons. Yakov is a former member of Brooklyn’s Borough Park Orthodox Jewish community and an experienced shomer, or watchman, over the dead. Keeping vigil is a tradition he understands— besides which, the fee is $400 for five hours' work and he could use the cash. Then, too, since the aim of first-time feature filmmaker Keith Thomas is to spook the stuffing out of his viewers, Yakov’s fate is essentially sealed. This is a Blumhouse production, remember, and those guys don’t mess about (Insidious, Split, Get Out…).
So here we go at 11.45pm, with the disaster recipe of eerie mood music and the body of a Holocaust survivor laid out under a sheet in a poky, lamp-lit apartment whose only other inhabitant is his freaky, Alzheimer’s-afflicted widow (Cohen). Sure enough, scarcely has Yakov got settled in, googling tips on his phone about how to talk to women, when the inevitable thumping begins. Spoiler alert! It’s a restless evil spirit, aka a dybbuk in Jewish lore. Also, whatever they’re paying Yakov isn’t going to be enough.
Psychological stealth bombs — especially those of the lean, mean, financially conscious variety — are only as effective as their creeping scare quotient. Escalating shocks are the name of this nocturnal game, strategically sandwiched between a poignant subtext and a pall of dread. Yakov is soon in dire straits, and Davis ramps up the fear factor to unpeeled anguish. His torn resolve is exactly what you’d expect from a man going head to head with the double whammy of hellish manifestations and devastating personal memories that are the true definition of haunting.