A woman's tight-knit Jewish community that is besieged by foreign invaders. Turning to Jewish mysticism, she conjures a dangerous creature to protect her and her people. However, her creation may be more evil than she ever imagined.
The new film from filmmakers, The Paz Brothers (Doron and Yoav)– the team behind Jeruzalem – had the hurdle of preconceived notions – to overcome. I generally try to go into most everything blind – in most cases, trying to avoid trailers and even the most basic of log-lines and synopses.
But I knew of their previous effort. I also knew that I watched about 20 minutes of Jeruzalem, before I turned it off – never to return.
In other words, I didn’t like it.
So – despite my best efforts to keep an open mind – the Jeruzalem baggage was right there in plain sight as I sat down to watch their latest film.
Imagine my utter joy and frankly, surprise – that their new film, The Golem, was a beautifully produced, expertly acted and fantastically enjoyable and emotionally resonant movie experience!
Hanna (Hani Furstenberg) and her husband Benjamin (Ishai Golan) live a simple life in a small Jewish community. They’re still dealing with the emotional fallout from the loss of their child, several years ago – and trying to conceive more offspring. In addition, their community must continually deal with foreigners invading their village – the most recent event finds the marauders taking up residence with a local healer, holding the community hostage while the healer attempts to save an invader’s child. To combat this violence and save the community, Hanna chooses to conjure a figure out of Jewish mysticism (the titular Golem). The thing is, the Golem is forever linked to the conjurer – including connections to that person’s past, their memories and even their grief.
The central performance from Hani Furstenberg is nothing short of miraculous. The script provides her with a rich smorgasbord of character history, varying emotions and difficult situations which Hanna must tackle. And Furstenberg excels at every turn. With her big, bright eyes, there’s easy access to Hanna’s inner-most thoughts. In other words, nothing can be hidden. Taking a page from Yentl, Hanna yearns to gain knowledge by studying holy literature (forbidden for women of this time). And this hutzpah serves the character in every situation. Her fearlessness, even in light of her emotional fragility – gets the audience on board immediately.
One of my common complaints is that I didn’t “root for” a film’s central character. It’s been a good, long while since I was this invested in a lead character. So while major kudos must be presented to the writers for their creation of Hanna, Furstenberg deserves praise for bringing the character to living, breathing life. Great writing paired with an exceptional performance = movie-making kismet.
Strong supporting performances (notably Ishai Golan as husband Benjamin) all help to cement this close-knit community – and to draw the audience into the illusion completely. Not a weak link in the bunch. And with a large cast such as this – that’s a rarity.
There’s a powerful story of loss and grief at the film’s center, and thankfully, it never falls into schmaltz or melodrama territory. By the film’s end, I was so invested in the central situation and Hanna’s journey specifically, that as the picture faded to black, I found myself tearing up. I think that if there’s that much of an emotional connection, the film can be considered a glowing success.
I find that being a parent in a film – more specifically, the concept of motherhood, is and has been – such an amazing treasure trove of emotional goodness – to help raise an audience’s sympathies. It’s not always pulled off so perfectly, but The Golem really gets it right.
Surprisingly, since character/theme/story are so much the film’s focus – I was taken by the overwhelming atmosphere of dread, the terrific suspense (that showdown outside of the healer’s abode, and the first reveal of The Golem to the villagers – WOW) and even some great “boo” moments.
The production values are off the charts. I’ve often commented that I’m no expert on period garb, or authentic period set dressing. So whether or not this film made the grade, I don’t really know. But if a layman like myself buys into all of these important details, then the filmmakers and design artisans did their job. The illusion is complete. Costumes, props and the design of the central community – all look fantastic and genuine and detailed.
The film is also a gem on the special effects/make-up front. Despite the fact that the film is so heavy emotionally, it’s also got it’s fair share of gore effects – some of which were gasp-worthy and wonderfully over-the-top when they show up on-screen.
In my wrap-up article for Screamfest this year (check it out here), The Golem found placement in the #3 position for my “Best of Fest”, feature films. Chances are, it’ll find its way into my end of the year “Best of Horror” write-up as well.
With a strong emotional core, great performances from a talented cast (including a mesmerizing lead performance from Hani Furstenberg) and beautiful production values – The Golem is a clear winner.
And I’ll offer this – I certainly don’t know all there is to know about the Jewish faith or corresponding mythology, but if the Paz Brothers did their homework (we can safely assume a “yes”), you might just learn a little something as well.
With zero hesitation, I will happily bestow a 4.5-star rating upon The Golem.
The film held its US Premiere at the 18th Annual Screamfest in Los Angeles. It already has distribution via Dread Central Presents, and is scheduled for a wider release in February 2019.
Put The Golem on your watch-list. And don’t make me conjure some sort of mythical creature to help remind you. Nothing good can come of that.