Directed by Vincent Ward.
Starring Penelope Stewart, Frank Whitten, Bill Kerr, Fiona Kay, and Gordon Shields.
A teenage girl living in an isolated house comes to terms with changes in her life after her father dies in an accident.
Vigil is not the type of movie to put on if you’re looking for a fun time and, if truth be told, it isn’t a film to put on if you want a good story to immerse yourself in. That may not sound like a tempting description but Vigil is still a film that deserves to be seen, especially if you’re a fan of using cinema as metaphor rather than fist-in-the-air entertainment, which Vigil definitely is not.
Instead of a story Vigil is a character piece, a snapshot in the life of 13 year-old Lisa ‘Toss’ Peers (Fiona Kay) who lives in an isolated farmhouse in the New Zealand Hills with her mother, father and grandfather. Whilst rounding up sheep on a mountain side Toss’ father falls and is killed, his body returned to her mother by passing hunter Ethan (Frank Whitten – Outrageous Fortune), who stays with the family as a farmhand, and the rest of the film plays out as Toss comes to terms with her changing environment whilst facing the onset of puberty. The film as a whole is made up of a collection of scenes rather than a flowing narrative as Toss plays children’s games on her own, using her own imagination and creating scenarios not only to pass the time but also to handle what is happening as her mother, grandfather and Ethan react to her and to each other in various ways, which may not sound terribly exciting but director Vincent Ward constructs each scene with a mesmerising dream-like quality that makes you think you are watching and waiting for something explosive to happen, and by the time the closing credits arrive you realise haven’t but you have experienced a full gamut of emotions that Ward and his actors bring out with seemingly very little going on.
Featuring some gorgeous cinematography that fully captures the isolation of the location and a sense of dread, and brilliant acting that crosses the spectrum from quiet, childhood loneliness to teenage angst in the case of Toss as she views her mother and Ethan becoming closer as her own burgeoning sexuality is coming to the surface, as well as the nature of relationships and how different generations view the world around them, Vigil is one of those understated art-house gems that packs a punch when you sit back and consider what it is showing you. It is very slow-moving – almost frustratingly so – and not everyone will take away the same thing from it as there is so much symbolism you will get something different from it with repeated viewings and/or depending on how you approach it but, overall, Vigil gets under your skin without really trying to force these characters on you, instead preferring to let you watch them as they interact – or don’t, as the case may be, as the use of silence is as important as the fairly minimal dialogue – and as a moody coming-of-age drama it works tremendously well, although depending on your own experiences and what you bring to the film it could go either way on how you feel when you come away from it. Sort of like the anti-The Breakfast Club, if you will.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★