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Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
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TIFF Midnight Madness: "The Vigil", "Saint Maud", and "The Vast of Night"

Chris Feil takes a look at a few of the genre offering of TIFF's Midnight Madness section...

Safely the most terrifying Midnight Madness I’ve seen in my years at TIFF, Keith Thomas’ The Vigil is a visceral dive into Jewish tradition and the effects of antisemitic trauma. Dave Davis stars as Yakov, a man struggling with his mental and financial health after leaving his Hasidic community. For a little quick cash, he accepts an overnight position as a shomer (an Orthodox traditional role for watching over the recently deceased) to a former Holocaust survivor. With the widow (Lynn Cohen) asleep upstairs, Yakov is visited by a demonic force that antagonizes Yakov’s already broken spirit...

The Vigil scarcely takes its time before unfolding its horror, quickly establishing Yakov’s emotional stakes before thrusting him into the film’s shadowy atmospherics. With an intricate soundscape and a slow build into the grimly hallucinogenic, Thomas crafts a film at home next to James Wan’s ghostly features but with more resonant emotional depth. Along with Davis’ anxious fragility as Yakov, the film becomes more personally felt as the horrors intensify, thrusting us into Yakov’s temporal experience. With a great economy of space and plenty of imaginatively creepy imagery, Thomas makes a quietly exciting genre debut.

Drawing on a long history of religious unease and tradition, The Vigil posits some horrors as inherited and with the potential to isolate us, making as much for a dark night of the soul as it is a really scary house of horrors. B+

Ross Glass employs a distancing misdirection with her confident (if too expedient) Saint Maud, a film of shocking psychosis and religious fervency. The film begins with the pious nun Maud (Morfydd Clark) arriving at the home of dying dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) to serve as a day nurse. Maud’s religious rigidity grates against the lesbian and free boozing Amanda, but the two begin a connection before one night brings their differences to a tipping point, sending the troubled Maud on a horrifying spiral.

What follows is when the film’s real horror begins, with debut director Glass brilliantly distracting us from the trapdoor she has placed us upon. Though what is to come is taughtly constructed and psychologically immersive, it becomes more experiential than illuminating. Where intentionally withheld information can sometimes make horror films more intriguingly elusive or ripe for rewatch, here it feels like we are often missing crucial details about Maud to understand the complete implications of where the film takes her. We feel what Maud goes through, but we don’t understand what has led us to it.

A nightmarish vision of martyrdom and repentance, Saint Maud has great work from Clark and wicked tactics in making us squirm, but feels incomplete. B-

Filled with creative ingenuity and a soothingly subdued energy, Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night is an exciting dose of old-school science fiction in the vein of The Twilight Zone and radio serials. Framed as an installment of the fictional Paradox Theatre, Patterson literally plunges us into mid-century television for a tale of paranoia and mystery within a small southwestern town. The young Fay (Sierra McCormick) and Everett (Jake Horowitz) take up their respective posts as phone operator and local disc jockey while the entire town descends upon their high school basketball game. In their solitude, the two potential lovers come in contact with a strange signal that quickly reveals an otherworldly secret lying dormant in among their small town existence.

Patterson molds the film into something both patient and pensive, allowing the film to play out in extended long takes thats convey the paranoid malaise of the era in unexpected ways. But its more methodical nature is undercut by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger’s dialogue that charms with the verve of Linklater, lending the film an unpretentious chill humor. With gorgeous shadowy cinematography from Miguel Ioann Littin Menz, Patterson creates an air of alluring American legend while also committing to its specific, television-influenced presentation that doesn’t overplay its stylistic hand. It terms of sustained evocative tone, the film is something of a mini marvel.

If The Vast of Night plays as a bit slight, it at least is welcomely so. The influences (and not to mention the narrative themes) here don’t always invite an understated approach, but this film does it beautifully and with satisfying narrative payoff. B+

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