It astounds me how much untapped potential there is in the horror genre. A genre which often digs into folklore and mythology, horror has, not all that surprisingly, focused on the various myths and evils revolving around Christianity and mostly white interpretations of society. In the last few years though, we have seen an uptick in horror films exploring other religions and cultures. Focused heavily on Jewish mythology, The Golem from Dread is the latest to join the pack, and it’s a doozy…
…Directed by Doron & Yoav Paz (Jeruzalem), with a script from Ariel Cohen (Take Mama), The Golem takes place in Lithuania, 1673. A plague is sweeping the country, but a small Jewish community remains untouched by the deadly disease. Believing this must be a sign that the Jews have cursed them, a rival community of invaders seeks vengeance against the small-town. Desperate to save her people, Hanna (Hani Furstenberg) summons a mystical creature known as the Golem to protect them, but soon discovers that she has created a greater evil than the foreigners she seeks to destroy.
If you for some reason have any reservations about The Golem, the film will immediately wash those away. The Golem opens with a bloody bang, displaying the raw power of the creature, and the Paz brother’s willingness to show the viewer that this monster isn’t fucking around. The brothers pull us right into the story with some brilliant cinematography by Rotem Yaron. The filmmakers mix a palette of harsh blues and oranges, representing cold vengeance and uncontained rage, respectively, thematics that make up the core of the film. Set in a dark period of disease and strict judgement against women, the viewer understands right away that we are in for something gut-wrenching, unique, and deeply personal, and The Golem lives up to all of the above tremendously.
Much of the strength of the film comes from the tortured souls of the characters, most specifically, Hanna, who struggles daily with the death of her son. Filled with anger and sadness, hungry for power and respect, Hanna is a complex heroine that the viewer can both root for and fear. Furstenberg brings a great deal of intensity to the character. At one point, you may want to hug Hanna and say, “don’t listen to those men saying you’re no more than an incubator”, and in another moment, you’ll want to back away, afraid Furstenberg may burn a hole in you with her fierce stare. Watching Hanna go from quiet, damaged wife to a take no prisoners warrior is an awesome journey of the soul. I enjoyed the hell out of seeing Anna get her groove back, and you will too. Supporting Furstenberg is Ishai Golan, Hanna’s husband, Benjamin. Golan is excellent in his role as well, adding an empathetic sadness to the story, as Hanna begins to fall under the spell of the Golem and he must work to keep her from becoming like the monster she has raised. The tortured couple is one that will have you praying they make it out of this alive and together, all the while knowing that the odds of that are less than good.
In every way possible, The Golem is a classic sort of tale, with modern themes revolving around the strength of women and the pain that comes with so many men judging a woman for not being able to produce a child. It’s the blame game that goes back centuries, one that women often deal with from their male counterparts. Hanna is told countless times, implied or otherwise, that her sole purpose is to create a child. Dating back to as recently as the 50s, that was still an ignorant yet common belief. The Golem passionately spits in the face of that idea, with Hanna as a character who is so much more than that. The film is an intimate exploration of the fear that comes with creating life, and the frustration and responsibility that a mother puts on herself and has put on her when that life is lost.
This is where The Golem becomes more than your average creature feature. Part The Brood, part Hellraiser, The Golem is the rare sort of creature feature that packs an emotional punch with excellent storytelling and a powerful despair. Each of the above-mentioned films sees a character that has lost a life and wants it back so badly, that they are willing to do anything possible to bring it back. Hanna is no different. While she may not realize it at first, the Golem is less about protecting her village, and more about rebirthing the son she lost. Look, I love a good creature feature, but there’s no argument that these are more often than not the less emotional stories of the genre, focusing on great effects and bloodshed over dramatic storytelling. But The Golem delivers on all of that, easily making it stand out as one of the most interesting monster movies I’ve seen in a long time.
As for the creature itself, it’s about time we get a representation of the Golem myth as well done as in The Golem. This film is a fascinating peak into the lore of the Jewish faith, and proves why it’s so damn imperative that the genre begin seeking out more and more stories outside of what American audiences are used to. The myth of the Golem has been explored before in cinema, but there are very few, and none have taken us as deep into the myth as this. Hanna puts her heart and soul into the creation of the thing, putting it together by hand like some kind of mud snowman, resulting in a creepy, quiet, muddy child, incredibly unnerving in his silence.
The Golem is a force to be reckoned with, too. The Paz brothers pack their film with exaggerated amounts of bloodshed. Heads explode. Holes are punched through chests. All to the gleeful sound effects of heavy sprays and bone crunching destruction. Where some, including myself, will be a bit disappointed is in the promise of a monster that we never truly get. Going back to the opening scene, we find a hulking Golem creature hiding in the shadows, outlined by a soft blue light. The thing looks incredible, and promises a sight to behold. Unfortunately, even though it is mentioned a few times that the Golem can evolve, he never does, and with how much effort the Paz brothers put into the gore and chaos of the film, we’re left wondering what could have been if we had gotten a full-on monster by the finale. Even though the Golem is indeed a killer and Hanna wants to remain blind to it, neither comes close to being the true monsters that we find in similar stories like Hellraiser or The Brood, lessening the impact of their villainy. It’s more difficult to buy into Hanna’s struggle with whether or not to stop the creature, when we never really see her become a true villain lost in her desperation to have a son again. She comes close, but the film just barely misses that mark.
That being said, The Golem still manages to rip the hearts out of our chests with a tragic ending that shows once again that horror is the best form of storytelling when it comes to working out our fucked-up emotions. It’s only January, but The Golem is one of the best horror films of 2019 so far, and does the Dread label proud under their new logo.
The Golem releases from Dread and Epic Pictures on VOD Feb 5th.
By Matt Konopka