There is a lot to like about the 2018 Israeli period supernatural horror movie, The Golem. The Jewish folklore surrounding Golems is ripe for exploration and the directing pair of Doron and Yoav Paz, the right duo to explore it. With a story by Ariel Cohen and cast featuring Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Brynie Furstenberg, and Konstantin Anikienko, authenticity is assured.
It’s impossible to not be taken in by the legitimacy of the period, the smart and respectful story, the captivating cinematography, the tension-based horror and impressive acting. All of this would be enough to declare The Golem as a movie that horror fans must see. Except for one niggling issue that becomes a maddening itch by the end of the film. An itch that surrounds the title character of the Golem.
Set in the year of 1673 in a small Jewish village in Lithuania, Hanna and her husband Benjamin are unable to conceive a child. This follows the traumatic event of them losing their son seven years prior.
The rabbi, also Benjamin’s father, wants his son to divorce Hanna so he can have children with a different woman but Benjamin loves his wife. So much so, that he helps her ‘steal’ a religious education and even smuggles out a Torah for her to read. A Torah being a compilation of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible; the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Life is simple but good for the Jewish folk of this small village until they are visited by a nearby village afflicted by the plague. Their leader blames them and notes they haven’t been affected the plague, so plans to kill them all. However, he is stopped by the village’s healer who agrees to treat his sick daughter.
Enraged by this intrusion upon their life, Hanna wants to fight back and argues with the rabbi suggesting that they make a Golem to protect them. Her ideas are dismissed though and Benjamin is angry with her for her behaviour.
As things get worse with the invader’s occupation, Hanna finally breaks and secretly sets about creating a Golem. A plan that works but with one unfortunate development. The Golem is just a kid, one with immense power, and it happens to bear a resemblance to her dead son.
Regardless of what Hanna sees, a Golem is not a living thing and as the past has proven, it can be very difficult to control.
There it is. There’s the problem with this film. By making the centrepiece of your movie a kid, one with supernatural powers, you’ve turned it into any supernatural horror ever. Swap out the Jewish culture and legends and what we have is ‘possessed/demon child’ horror. Infinitely less interesting even if the focus tries hard to stay on the Jewish side of things.
Those hoping for a hulking beast made of mud and clay will be disappointed, aside from the opening scene which hides its Golem in shadows.
However, that’s not the only problem that rears its head as the film goes on. Several important plot points are completely dropped which confuses things. Without spoiling anything, one surrounds Hanna’s sister and the other involves the Golem getting jealous of Benjamin? It’s a very confusing scene. As is the fact that this Golem is supposed to bear a likeness to their dead son. No-one makes this clear and at no point do we ever see their dead son’s face so how are we supposed to ascertain that it looks like their lost child?
It’s these niggling things, the look of the Golem mainly, that chips away at the film’s overall quality. Which is such a shame as there is so much to enjoy. Maybe these are issues that can be overlooked considering just how strong the movie is in so many important departments. That’s going to be down to individual taste.
For an authentic exploration of Jewish folklore and legend, there’s certainly little that has been done as well as this though.
The Golem (2018)
The Final Score - 6.5/10