The Golem. 2019.
Directed by Doron Paz and Yoav Paz.
Starring Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, and Brynie Furstenberg.
During an outbreak of a deadly plague, a mystical woman must save her tight-knit Jewish community from foreign invaders, but the entity she conjures to protect them is a far greater evil.
Israel’s burgeoning horror scene – most recently popularized by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Big Bad Wolves/Rabies along with the Paz brothers’ JeruZalem – takes another, culturally representative step forward thanks to Doron and Yoav Paz’s The Golem. Undeterred by outsider marketability, faithfully adaptive to religious lore rooted in forefront Judaism. To those raised in Israeli households, whose relatives whispered ancient fables, the Pazs stay true to “Israeli Horror” by telling the most Israel-specific story possible. One of villagers, plague outbreaks, and gender oppression that leads to devastation in bygone times.
Filmmakers can merely repurpose general horror blueprints with overseas flavors, or fully embrace their native country’s richest heritage – Doron and Yoav opt for the latter.
In a time of farmland civilization, Hanna (Hani Furstenberg) and Benjamin (Ishai Gilman) pray for a male heir. Gentiles battle contamination in a neighboring territory, and eventually bring an ill girl to the healer in Hanna’s village. Declining the Gentile leader’s request would result in violence, spurning reluctant treatment, but Hanna fights back another way. She recites passages from an ancient tome around a body-formed pile of virgin soil – bordered by flames outlining the Star of David – and summons a “Golem” (protector). One muddy child appears the next day, proving dedication to Hanna’s safety as a son would – but killings don’t stop with invading Gentiles. Has Hanna doomed her community instead of saving it?
The Pazs take to 17th century Lithuania with Robert Eggers’ transformative period devotion. Impoverished settlers mill about their livestock and attend masses as a means of passing time. Women are meant to bear children while men laboriously toil, which forces Hanna to pursue her religious studies while crouched under floorboards as congregations chant hymns above. Soothsayers spread mystic wisdom, Kabbalah texts dictate lifestyles, dreary greyness hangs overhead – horror, in the scenario, emanates through daily life.
Enter little “golem,” whose youthful appearance remains significant to Hanna. Her husband Benjamin prays each time after impassionately “sowing his seed” for a son, suggesting their procreation relationship has become mechanical. Hanna retreats to her back-alley studies, thus inorganically birthing an inhuman guardian tied to her lifeforce. When she bleeds, so does he and vice versa. Not particularly scary, but enough “creepy child” vibes sustain until unleashed power exemplifies why Hanna’s keeper – she dubs “Joseph” (again, significant) – should be feared as a diety.
Don’t expect slasher speeds or demonic enthusiasm. Bouts of *explosive* gore spurt blood like geysers from telepathically combusted heads and stabbed horns, but not with frequency. The Golem is about playing God, tempting fate, and not trusting designs from above. Hanna’s granted a second chance but must face consequences head-on per result. The Pazs encourage sneaking by night, shifty shadows, and Jewish struggles over limb-tearing, snarly underworld attacks on humanity. There’s a reason I above reference Eggers – responsible for the equally slow-burn The Witch – with a Pet Sematary tinge.
The Golem is worldly, atmospheric, and tense when it matters. Don’t expect heart rates to intensify, but Doron and Yoav Paz showcase what makes the horror genre so acceptingly versatile. Not only can they tap into women’s rights issues once again at the forefront of society, but also resurrect a past filled with haunting bird-like contamination suits and faith-based terror. A tragic tale bound to unique Israeli experiences that’s still understood by mass viewership. Proper cinema like this smashes borders and promotes individuality – why not scare up a nightmare or two while you’re at it?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).