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Jewish Folklore Used As Genre Bait

The Golem is not strictly a horror movie albeit it certainly pretends to be just that for marketing purposes. This is not another genre exercise or mere creature flick hitting the b-movie market. The well-crafted Israeli production comes from the Paz brothers and screenwriter Ariel Cohen.

The Golem adroitly pulls from Jewish folklore and legend to tell the wrenching story of a woman saving her village from ignorant outsiders in 17th Century Lithuania. While the uncompromising thriller has its moments, disappointing creature FX and an uneven plot mar its lackluster storytelling.

A deadly plague has broken out near a small Jewish village. Fearful outsiders notice the isolated village has been left untouched by the plague, drawing suspicion. Feeling threatened by the menacing outsiders looking to do her community harm, Hanna (Hani Furstenberg) uses her forbidden knowledge of Kabbalah to summon a golem for the village’s protection.

An outspoken woman in a time and place where women were meant to be seen and not heard, Hanna isn’t afraid of challenging the traditional patriarchy that runs her village. Having failed to produce a child for her husband, she has secretly been studying the rabbi’s esoteric scrolls.

What starts out as a simple yearning by Hanna to protect her village from harm will spiral out of control when the inhuman monster she summons becomes violent and uncontrollable. The moral here is be careful what you wish for when dealing with forces beyond your control.

… disappointing creature FX and an uneven plot mar its lackluster storytelling

In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated being magically created entirely from inanimate matter. The supernatural creatures are often summoned in Jewish folklore to defend from anti-Semitic attacks. The inhuman protection often comes with a price since the creatures can’t always be controlled – which is exactly what happens in The Golem.

The twist here is that the monstrous golem appears in the form of Hanna’s deceased son, Josef. Hanna has never really gotten over Josef’s death several years ago, which has put tremendous strain on her marriage to Benjamin (Ishai Golan), son of the village’s respected rabbi.

The Golem has an uneasy tension between its trappings as serious historical drama and the more fantastical creature scares. It’s a well-made movie in terms of craft, easily a cut above the genre fodder that usually passes as entertainment in horror. Which helps lend credence to its firm roots in Jewish history and folklore. There is a real air of authenticity to its Jewish cultural trappings. The Golem definitely takes a page from The Witch in tone and atmosphere, if not wholesale inspiration.

For all its virtues, The Golem doesn’t always work. The creature looks disappointing and its effects are second-rate, even for independent horror presumably made on a budget. Hanna is the tragic character at its core, broken by losing her son and given no outlet in a male-dominated time. However, Hanna’s character development is trite and unfolds exactly as expected. Her husband Benjamin is an underwritten, and underwhelming, co-lead character.

More a religious drama than overt monster thriller, The Golem rarely gets into scary territory. If you are looking for b-movie frights, look elsewhere. What you get is a serious and occasionally thoughtful treatment of a Jewish community facing a supernatural creature from legend, while deconstructing the complex inner dynamics of that society’s religious priorities. An evocative, but ultimately unsatisfying historical thriller.

Video

The Golem’s picture quality largely satisfies in this fine Blu-ray presentation. Released by indie label Epic Pictures (I’ve never heard of them before this disc), the 94-minute main feature is presented in sharp 2.39:1 video. Encoded in AVC at questionable bitrates on a BD-25, the real negative here is far more banding and even macroblocking than you normally see from new BDs.

The movie’s transfer has been struck from a digital intermediate in pristine condition. The 1080P resolution shines in exterior scenes with crisp definition and obvious texture. Interiors are often darker with uneven shadow delineation. The digital color grading offers naturalistic flesh-tones and a balanced palette.

If not for the relatively weak AVC encode, The Golem has fairly crisp and pleasing video worthy of Blu-ray resolution.

Audio

A serviceable surround mix only comes in lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital. The audio has clean, intelligible dialogue and adequate separation across the front soundstage. The subwoofer does see action in several scenes. The powerful symphonic score provides excellent support in a strong and ambient spread across all channels.

Optional English SDH subtitles display in a yellow font, inside the scope presentation at all times.

Extras

The niche horror release gets a full audio commentary from its directors and several short featurettes. Reversible cover art is provided.

Audio Commentary From Directors Doron and Yoav Paz and Screenwriter Ariel Cohen – A typical director’s commentary breaking the movie down behind the scenes as they explain some of their creative choices. Cohen goes into his research on golems.

The Making of The Golem (03:48 in HD) – Footage from the set and behind the scenes.

Deleted Scenes (02:04 in HD) – A couple of moments that would have expanded Hanna’s sister’s role.

The Making of The Golem Soundtrack (03:01 in HD) – Composer Tal Yardeni is shown directing the orchestra as they record the score.

Frightfest Interview (02:02 in HD) – The two directors discuss the movie at Arrow Video’s event.

The Golem Trailer (02:12 in HD)

The Golem International Trailer (02:01 in HD)

The Golem Teaser (00:37 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Golem
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
3

Movie

A deeply Jewish horror experience that serves up better historical drama than actual frights.

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1 (1 vote)

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