With such a rich, biblical culture, one has to wonder why more Israeli horror films don’t take advantage of Jerusalem. Scenes essentially set themselves, twisting through vast tunnel systems and maze-like markets, and ideology paints a religious Hell on Earth given the right story.
JeruZalem, a found-footage demon flick from the Paz brothers, understands the advantages of transporting viewers to a creature-filled Jerusalem, and treats the holy land with terrifying respect. Sure, the film may spend most of its time accompanying two Jewish tourists as they soak in the deceptively cheery destination, but when the “OH SHIT” switch gets flipped, Doron and Yoav Paz prove to be invigorating genre filmmakers. A tad generic in practice, but insane nonetheless.
Danielle Jadelyn stars as Sarah, a young vacationer on a quest to Tel Aviv with her best friend Rachel (Yael Grobglas). Right before she leaves, her father gifts her a prescription Smart Glass device (think Google Glass), which represents our view for the entire film. On her flight, Sarah takes a liking to a charming anthropologist across the aisle who chats her up (Kevin, played by Yon Tumarkin), and on a whim, the girls end up in Jerusalem to do some touristing first. Unfortunately for Sarah, after partying days away with Kevin, Jerusalem finds itself under siege by a biblical scourge, and survival becomes her only focus. They say one of the gates to Hell is located in Jerusalem, and it looks like Sarah gets to see it open.
First and foremost, let me congratulate the Paz brothers on concocting a way to rationalize Sarah’s constant recording of the events that unfold. Most found footage movies have a character holding a camera, as we sit there wondering why their filming takes precedent over practicality. But Sarah NEEDS her Smart Glass device because it’s been fitted with her exact prescription, and she’d be blind without the nifty technology.
This leads to some interesting viewpoints, as facial recognition gives us character backstories through Facebook windows, and brief malfunctions that are comically inappropriate – or possibly deadly. For example, it’s bad enough that Sarah has to explore a dilapidated loony bin to rescue Kevin, but then Bartok House’s “Ex-Boyfriend Rant” starts blasting at random like a homing-beacon for resurrected devils. Kudos to JeruZalem for finding a rational method to POV filmmaking, in all its blurry, frantic, and otherwise gimmicky glory.
Yes – there’s still a certain level of unfortunate genre generics that dilute this frenzied religious horror story, from blurry zooming to chaotic cutaways. The creature design is grisly and righteous in the close-up glimpses we’re sometimes given, but bigger-scale effects are often covered up by fuzzy interference or a complete loss of connection.
A gargantuan beast towers over Jerusalem, which Sarah only glimpses between buildings like the minimal-reveal opening scenes of Cloverfield – a reminder of the tighter budget that the Paz brothers have to deal with. Such a reality doesn’t excuse a story that’s too front-loaded with establishing tourist antics, or expected visual cheats, but when captured in crystal-clear focus, gruesome freaks make for some enjoyably ravenous winged beasts from Hell. It’s just a shame they’re hidden half the time.
Guiding us through all the sinful pleasures Jerusalem has to offer, Jadelyn doesn’t get much screen time herself. Since she’s wearing the glasses, her performance is more about dialogue and reactions, which she does a suitable job of supplying. Yael Grobglas, as gal-pal Rachel, is more the on-camera star in this scenario, and she’s the bubbly, vivacious hottie we’ve come to expect. The two girls banter back and forth, spouting terrible pickup lines and kitschy dialogue, which is only exploited in a larger fashion by their male counterparts, played by Yon Tumarkin and Tom Graziani. Grobglas is the standout here, for nasty reasons that unfold, but no character is ever detrimental to the story – an unfortunate fate that sometimes derails entire indie productions.
JeruZalem is a zombie/possession thriller that boasts ample character, but not consistently throughout. This only means it can’t be praised at a higher level, though, as the existing product is still fiercely furious and enjoyably tense for sustainable periods. The crumbling of such a stoic city under Satan’s weight is reason enough for intrigue, and the Paz brothers show enough genre grit to warrant a dance with the devil. You might be left wanting more, but satisfaction still comes in the way of vile bouts of demon-smiting aggression. Give these brothers credit where it’s due, but I’m more excited to see what comes next – I’m hoping this is just a sample of bigger horror ideas to come from team Paz.
JeruZalem is a biblical nightmare set in an inherently characteristic locale, and while generic found footage methods are used, there's still enough here for horror fans to enjoy (or fear).