Tuesday, August 28, 2018

FrightFest ’18: The Golem

This creature of Kabballah looks nothing like German silent film star Paul Wagener. Instead, he resembles the young son still mourned by the woman (now presumed barren) who created him. That will make him especially dangerous when he turns against those he is supposed to protect (like Skynet or Cujo) in Doron & Yoav Paz’s first English language film, The Golem (trailer here), which premiered during this year’s FrightFest in the UK.

Frankly, in this isolated 17th Century Lithuanian Jewish village, there are not a lot of educational opportunities for women in general, but the study of Kabballah and mystical texts is strictly prohibited. Nevertheless, Hanna eavesdrops on the Rabbi’s lectures and pours over the books her husband Benjamin reluctantly smuggles home for her. Alas, she is not nearly as intimidated by the subject matter as are the Rabbi’s properly male students. That means only she will have the guts to create a golem to protect the village from a rampaging feudal lord, but she might not have the strength to destroy the creature when it brings out all her maternal instincts.

Stylistically, the Paz’s Brothers’ Golem is dramatically different than the found footage conceit of their first feature, JeruZalem, but it definitely taps into some deep Jewish folkloric themes and tropes. This is as much a dark fable as it is a horror film, but it shares a kinship with the Frankenstein/Modern Prometheus and Faust archetypes, along with the Golem legend. Fate is a killer in this film, just like the Golem.

Israeli thesp Hani Furstenberg (recognizable to hardcore cineastes for her starring role in Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Place) is pretty impressive as Hanna, fully connecting with both the maternal and feminist elements of her character. Daniel Cohen makes quite a creepy kid playing “Hanna’s Son.” Frankly, none of the other male characters is a well-developed as Hanna, but they look and act era appropriate amid all the chaos and carnage.

Despite the dissimilarities of their two features, the Paz Brother consistently show a knack for projecting a vibe of ancient, soul-shattering evil. It is a moody film, sort of like The Witch, but it also seriously portrays the harsh realities of shtetl life in Old Europe. Recommended for fans of serious period horror films, The Golem is slated to open theatrically next year, following its premiere at this year’s FrightFest.