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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Review: The Golem

Director: Doron Paz and Yoav Paz
Screenplay: Ariel Cohen
Year: 2019

The folk horror genre has gained much popularity in horror cinema. Part of its success comes from the good reception of some movies of this kind, as the amazing “The Witch” and “Apostle”. The clothing as well as a simpler lifestyle, usually influenced by some sort of religion, contribute to creating a tense atmosphere, practical for horror movies. This time is the Israeli Paz brothers who decided to venture in this genre. This duo of directors are the ones responsible for the movie “Jeruzalem”, which was not that well received but managed to made people talk about it as it takes place in a conflicted Jerusalem, adding to the mix a series of religious apocalyptic events, and all of this is viewed through some smart glasses, refreshing the found footage style of filming.

“The Golem” takes place in a small rural town in Lithuania in 1673. In the middle of an outbreak of a plague, a group of foreigners takes the small Jewish town hostage, demanding that they cure one of their sick children and accusing them of being the responsible for the outbreak. A woman decides to take action to protect her town and conjures a powerful entity from Jewish mythology, without knowing that this entity is eviler than what she imagines.

“The Golem” opens with a scene where we can see the contour of the mythical creature, an imposing stone soldier, in a Jewish synagogue or shul. The scene is intense and graphic, and two things are established that will be important for the rest of the movie: one is the power of the Golem and the other that the directors will not take the gore lightly. We can also see that the movie will be focused on Jewish religion and its mysticism. From here the movie advances to where the story of the movie will take place. Here the rhythm slows down, and we start to get to know the principal characters and the situation.

Hanah and Benjamin, excellently portrayed respectively by Hani Furstenberg (“Mississippi Murder”) and Ishai Golan (“Mindbender”), are a marriage immersed in grief after losing their only child. They continue trying to get children without success, although later it is revealed that Hanah used a contraceptive method to avoid getting pregnant, as she could not fathom the idea of losing another child. It is evident that their marriage is maintained by their love, but the relationship has deteriorated greatly after their loss. The main antagonist Vladimir, interpreted by Alex Tritenko joins the group of protagonists after he takes the town hostage and accuses them of sickening them with their magic. To fight against their captors, Hanah decides to go above the leaders of the town and create a Golem. It is here where the story gets interesting, as the Golem takes the shape of Josef, their deceased child, which makes a strong bond between him and Hanah. It also starts to become evident the topic of female empowerment in an age way before any feminist movement and when the role of women in society was very different from the current one. In this case, Hanah decides to challenge the male authority making decisions for the greater good of the town, but without their approval, which was not well seen in these times.

Once the Golem appears, the most violent scene takes place. The Golem is extremely powerful and sadistic, smashing into pieces, literally, whoever it understands is a menace for Hanah, her creator. These violent scenes are graphic and impressive and leave little to the imagination. Although most of the time these violent moments are expected and since the first scene the sadism of this creature is clear, they manage to impress with how graphic they are. Something that contributes to how imposing these scenes are is the style of shot used, always well balanced and aesthetically beautiful, even with the carnage shown. This type of scene reminded me of “Apostle”, where the same thing happens, scenes that impress for their sadism as well as their visual richness.

Some elements that can work against the enjoyment of the movie is the soundtrack and how culturally specific it is. The music sometimes is completely out of place with the scene and it seems more appropriate for a police investigation movie than for a supernatural horror movie. Also, the legend of the Golem as well as that the story is heavily centered in Jewish religion can affect its enjoyment, as if you have no knowledge about this it can become a little difficult to follow the thread of the plot and associate with the protagonists. In addition, there are some parts where the rhythm of the movie drops considerably and maybe for some viewers, it can be too slow or boring. In my experience, this was not the case and the minor flaws that I found did not harm the enjoyment of this movie.

“The Golem” explores a genre that has gained popularity inside of horror movies as folk horror but giving it its own cultural sense. With good care for the visuals, an interesting story and a great cast, “The Golem” results in a movie, that besides bringing new things, it is very interesting. Although it has some minor flaws, they do not affect much the final product. The Paz brothers continue to innovate in horror cinema, but this time they managed to do it in a more accurate way.

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