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The Golem (2018)

Epic Pictures
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/5/2019

All Ratings out of
Movie: ½
Video: ½
Audio: ½
Extras: ½

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/7/2019

Religion and religious ideas are no strangers to horror films.  However, when you study these movies, you’ll see that it’s Catholicism which is often featured in these movies.  From The Exorcist to The Nun, Catholic icons and ideas are clearly a source of inspiration for scary movies.  (I’ve always wanted to see a Methodist horror movie, which I assume would attempt to make handbells and pancake breakfasts terrifying.)  2009’s The Unborn attempted to buck this trend by brining Judaism to the forefront, but the results were less than satisfying.  Now, a decade later, a new horror film is focusing on “God’s Chosen People” in The Golem.  Will the results be a blessing or a curse? 

Hanna (Hani Furstenberg) and Benjamin (Ishai Golan) live in a small village.  Hanna is supposed to be a meek, compliant wife, but she insists on learning all of the religious lessons which are meant only for men, and will hide under the temple in order to hear the lectures.  This aside, Hanna and Benjamin’s relationship is strained as he wants to have a child.  A plague is ravaging the countryside, and the village is suddenly threatened by Vladimiar (Alexey Tritenko), a cruel man from a neighboring town who is seeking help for his ailing daughter.  Enraged by Vladmir’s behavior, Hanna decides to take matters into her own hands.  She steals a book of dark magic and creates a Golem, a mythical creature which is designed to protect its master.  The spell works, but not as she’d suspected.  And while she meets her goal of protecting the village, Hanna soon finds herself in an emotionally confusing place.


If you’ve seen the trailer for The Golem, your immediate reaction may have been that it’s simply a Jewish version of The Witch.  Both films are set in the past and both have supernatural elements, but that’s where the comparison ends, as The Golem proves itself to be very much its own film.  And while it can certainly be classified as a horror film, the movie also has the elements of historical fiction and it’s a female empowerment film.


That last point is a great jumping off point when examining this film.  The story of the golem dates back to the earliest days of Judaism.  In its simplest terms, it could be described as an inspiration for the Frankenstein myth, as it involves life being created from inanimate matter.  This legend was been tackled in movies before (in fact, some of the earliest movies, as there are examples from 1915 and 1920), but it’s typically a man who creates/summons the creature.  Having a woman in the lead role, not only makes The Golem unique for this kind of story, it also creates a strong emotional core for the film.  Hanna is also intriguing for her independence and her refusal to stick to the traditional female role.  Not only is she breaking God’s law by creating the Golem, she doing things which are forbidden to women.  This also creates all sort of issues for Benjamin as well.  As we learn more about them as a couple and their history, we understand Hanna’s reaction to the monster.


Oddly, it’s this emotional depth which trips up The Golem.  It’s clear that Directors Yoav & Doron Paz have a true affection for horror films, as they don’t pull any punches here.  This isn’t a wall-to-wall gorefest, but several people do explode and there’s a generous amount of blood.  Thus, it often feels as if we are watching two different movies; one was essays the story of a couple struggling to overcome their tortured past and keep from drifting apart, and another in which a monster kills a bunch of people.  The stories do overlap appropriately at times, but the crowd who is getting into the story of 17th century struggling to avoid the plague may not dig the exploding heads.


Still, kudos to Screenwriter Ariel Cohen for resurrecting this bit of Jewish folklore and using it in a very organic way.  This is by no means a “Jewish movie” and one need not know anything about Judaism (save for the ancient rules on gender) to enjoy the story of people who are having emotional crises.  The Paz Brothers have not only crafted a unique, if uneven, movie, but they are also delivered a slick-looking production.  I couldn’t find any notes on the budget, but no doubt that this looks much more expensive than it really was.  Again, comparisons to The Witch and something like The Village will be inevitable, and the bottom-line is that if you enjoyed those films, then you’ll find something to like in The Golem.


The Golem has a classic “what are we going to tell the cops?” ending on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Epic Pictures.  The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps.  The image is very, very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials.  The colors look fantastic and the image is never overly dark or bright.  The level of detail is notable and the depth works quite well.  The nice transfer here only helps to enhance the impressive look of the film.  The Disc carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 448 kbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  This is a perfectly serviceable track, but when we are getting Blu-ray quality visuals, why would we want DVD quality sound?  That’s not what modern viewers expect.  The stereo and surround effects are fine, and we get some palpable subwoofer during the action sequences, but none of it relays the sort of detail or crispness to which we’ve become accustomed with lossless tracks.


The Golem Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features.  We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Directors Yoav & Doron Paz.  “The Making of The Golem” (4 minutes) takes us on set for a reel of “fly on the wall” video showing key scenes being shot and the cast and crew interacting.  The Disc contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 2 minutes.  There is an implied suicide here that I don’t remember from the movie.  “Making The Golem Soundtrack” (3 minutes) allows access to the soundstage Composer Tal Yardeni at work with the orchestra.  “Frightfest Interview” (2 minutes) has the two directors talking about the film.  The extras are rounded out by three TRAILERS for the film.

Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long