The Golem is a supernatural film from directing duo Doron and Yoav Paz about a woman who summons a monster to protect her village, but things don’t go as planned. The film is the first for horror website Dread Central and makes its East Coast theatrical premiere at the Miami Jewish Film Festival on January 16th. On February 1st the film opens in Los Angeles and then The Golem lands on VOD, DVD, and Blu-ray on February 5th.
A New Take
The Golem is the third cinematic retelling of the 16th-century Jewish folktale. The first two are interesting to note because they were done by the same director only five years apart. It’s a bit of fascinating cinema history. Of note, the second version from 1920 is praised as one of the best examples of German Expressionism. Flashforward to 2018 and we have the Israeli-born Paz brothers doing a new take.
If you’re not familiar with the Paz brothers, this is their third film. Their first feature, Phodilia was an exploration of modern conveniences and how it’s changing people. The Paz brothers followed that up with JeruZalem, a mostly first-person zombie film set in Israel. These films are equal parts competent, ambitious, and silly.
The Golem is more of the same which is a good thing. The brothers, one of the familiar names emerging from the rapidly-growing film scene in Israel, bring more of their unique blend to this film and it works, or it doesn’t, depending on your tastes.
The Golem Begins …
The Golem begins in the past, quickly recounting the story of a Rabbi who summons a creature to defend his people only to subject them to a horrible monster. That’s the original folktale in a nutshell. Wrapped up in about five minutes.
The film’s present-day takes place a century or two later and centers around a small, mostly isolated Jewish village. The community lives in peace even while a sickness spreads across the rest of the country. A group of outsiders blame the Jews and force them to stay within the confines of their community. Hanna, our lead played by Hani Furstenberg, isn’t having it and she turns to mystical forces to do something about it.
Hanna summons the titular creature, and it quickly proves to be a life-saver but, as summoning supernatural forces will often lead, things start to go haywire. The first appearance of the creature is a fantastic sequence and reveal. It’s masterful when a horror movie can creep viewers out in a scene that takes place in broad daylight.
Visually, the Paz brothers do not disappoint as they create a beautiful world to look at it. Jeruzalem was clever in its use of the “Google Glass”-type headset. And they do love their first-person views as The Golem features a couple of POV shots. On a technical and visual level, everything is on point including some exquisite lighting.
It’s easy to say that The Golem falls flat on a story level because it follows the familiar beats of so many movies like it. It’s got the right tropes at the right time. However, instead of exposition bombs, it offers throwing daggers that come out of the dark, only a few at a time. And the tropes are subverted by the subtle nature of the creature itself. The film creates so much creepy tension in moments where nothing is happening except for two characters staring at each other. That last sentence should also be taken as a nod to the great performances by Hani Furstenberg and the young man who plays the monster.
The writing and story in The Golem is indeed nothing to write home about. But where the movie hits bumps in the road is the Paz Brothers’ tendency to let cringe-worthy dialogue and micro-moments slip in. It happened a lot in Jeruzalem. It’s less of a problem here but still enough to really jog viewers out of the moment. Also, the choice of music is often harkening back to an old style of movie that doesn’t mesh well with the gritty-lite style going on in The Golem.
Would I recommend The Golem? Yes. It’s a lot like many other films in the genre but with a different type of monster and born from a different kind of folklore that we don’t see much often. The Paz Brothers and their unique sensibilities offer enough of the familiar and the new to keep things interesting. It might even make it into your collection of modern monster movies.