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Jason Widgington [Celluloid 07.24.15] Israel apocalyptic horror

There are two ways to approach a film such as Jeruzalem, from writer/director brothers Yoav Paz and Doron Paz (Phobidilia (trailer)): as a beacon of things to come for the nascent wave of Israeli genre cinema (as it's being hyped), and as a straight-up horror film meant to entertain and scare you. Does it work on either count?

In Jeruzalem, two American girls embark on a trip to Tel-Aviv to party on vacation, but their plans are altered when they meet a handsome young man on their flight who persuades them to start their vacation in Jerusalem over Yom Kippur instead. Little do they know that they are about to witness literal hell on Earth, as the third gate to hell (the other two are in the desert and in the ocean, of course) opens up and the holy city is overrun by monsters and the undead. Mass panic and copious carnage ensue.

Horror cinema from Israel was non-existent until Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado made Rabies (review) in 2010 and followed it up with Big Bad Wolves (review) in 2013. The former was a crowd-pleasing comedic horror film that had its flaws but showed the potential that would fully present itself in the latter, a dark and brooding horrific whodunit – or more accurately "did he or didn't he do it" – that deservedly won the Best Film award at the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival. An admittedly tough act to follow for Jeruzalem, but it's not completely fair to lay that pressure down on the Paz brothers' film, as it really is a whole other beast. Where its predecessors featured Israeli main characters speaking in Hebrew, with nary a foreign character to be seen, Jeruzalem plays out almost entirely in English and its three main characters are American tourists (albeit portrayed by Israeli actors. More on that later). The end result is that it doesn't necessarily feel like an Israeli horror film so much as it feels like a horror film set in Israel. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, as the industry for genre cinema in the Holy Land could use the attention that a wide-release film like this should end up giving them. The more varied the output, especially if it all is relatively successful, the more creators will be encouraged to make the films and the genre will flourish. But wait! Isn't this supposed to be a review of the film itself and not a treatise on the state of Israeli horror cinema? Okay....moving on, then.

For the most part, as it pertains to the constitution of a horror movie, Jeruzalem gets it right. A fantastic concept, where the three major religions in the ancient city band together to fight an ancient truth while hiding it from the public, is only made stronger by the Paz brothers' use of POV, where the entire film is played out via the "Google Glass" pair of glasses of one of the main characters (Danielle Jadelyn, director of Folie à Trois). Sure, Google Glass was a flop, but the concept works phenomenally well in this film, with its facial recognition technology and social media capabilities adding to the overall experience. Add to this the tremendous amount of access the brothers had in filming in forbidden places, like the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall, and the result is almost a first-person dark travelogue. As Jadelyn's Sarah, Yael Grobglas' (Rabies) Rachel, and Yon Tumarkin's (Rock the Casbah) Kevin try to escape the city before it's too late, we are met with all kinds of jump scares and extended views of the monstrous beings that it's impossible not to be entertained.

Now, if you've read everything up to this point, you may think that I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I did like it a lot, for what it was. But I wanted to love Jeruzalem. I really did. Unfortunately, I have a couple of gripes, one of which is mild, the other of which is quite major and actually threatened to ruin the film for me. I can forgive using CGI in a horror film if it's used minimally and done well, but there are a few glaring uses of it that took away the impact of the moment. That's the mild gripe. But when we're supposed to think that the heavily accented Kevin is a born and bred American, that's pushing it a bit too far. For a guy nicknamed "Indiana," he sure sounds like he's straight outta Haifa.

All things considered, Jeruzalem may be the perfect film at the perfect time for the Israeli horror movement: a legitimately scary and entertaining film with widespread appeal that should garner more foreign interest in this untapped market than the limited, albeit more artistically-inclined, appeal of a film like Big Bad Wolves. And there's nothing wrong with a little cheese to go with your champagne.

Recommended Release: Big Bad Wolves

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