The Golem, 2018.
Directed by Doron and Yoav Paz.
Starring Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Lenny Ravich, Brynie Furstenberg, and Alexey Tritenko.
A woman creates a golem to defend her town but when her attachment to it grows, so does her unwillingness to destroy it.
Every golem story needs a character who thinks they can evade the ending that’s been assigned to golem stories – that from the earth a creature, or monster (the noun depends on you), can be forged that will obey orders and protect the people it was created to protect, without going on to commit violence, unrestricted. In Dread Central’s first original film, The Golem, that character is Hanna (Hani Furstenberg).
Presented from the start as a rebel, who’s studying the Kabbalah from books her husband, Benjamin (Ishai Golan), squirrels away for her, it’s been seven years since her son died and the rabbi is encouraging Benjamin to leave her for a wife who will give him children. That Benjamin is abetting her studies (she secretly attends the rabbi’s lessons from beneath the floorboards) says he plans to stand by his wife, but grief has put a strain on their relationship, and they’re not necessarily on the same page about trying again.
Creating a Golem. Giving birth to a child. The connection isn’t subtle, but that’s not the reason Hanna decides to make a Golem. The gentiles who live near their small, Lithuanian village have been hit by the plague, and believe Jewish spells are responsible. In truth it’s their town’s isolation that’s protected them from illness but unless they can cure the daughter of one of their aggressors, the town will be wiped out.
For the most part The Golem plays out the way you would expect (which isn’t to say unsoundly), but that association, between the golem and the child Hanna lost, that seemed so heavy-handed at first, ends up running deeper and making Hanna’s struggle to continue to see the golem as inhuman completely understandable. From the golem’s physical appearance (the realization that the dirt and grime is only surface level and can be washed away, which is both practically useful and made to have emotional weight) to the auditory suggestion of hearing her son’s toy before knowing her ceremony worked, so for a second she’s expecting something else when she walks up the attic stairs. Under these conditions, Hanna’s growing maternal instincts feel unavoidable and Furstenberg throws everything into her performance.
All of the major scenes are built so they have the most impact, including the inevitable point when someone thinks the golem needs to be destroyed. When it happens in The Golem, though, the decision isn’t without consequences. There’s a price for letting the golem live, but a price for letting it die as well, and having those prices run against each other makes for a difficult call.
As someone who’s always been interested in Jewish folklore, The Golem takes that mythology and brings it to life. It may not be the scariest horror movie, since a lot of the turns are expected, but it is a well-rendered Golem tale.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★