I love monster movies, especially ones that play around with creatures that we don’t see very often. Golems certainly qualify as a seldom seen cinematic beasties. What is a golem? While some myths vary, the general idea of a golem is that it is a creature composed of soil or clay that is called to life in order to either protect or avenge the oppressed. That’s a fun concept positively ripe with possibilities, making it all the more bafflingly that we have not seen golems utilized in film more often. Aside from a few silent era offerings from Paul Wegener, a ’60s film starring Roddy McDowell, and an episode of The X-Files, I’m hard pressed to think of any major examples of the creature in this medium.
Lucky for me, brothers Doron & Yoav Paz (JeruZalem) have stepped up to help fill this particular void with The Golem. After an opening sequence involving the bloody aftermath of a golem rampage decades earlier, the film opens in the 1700s on a small, isolated Jewish village in Lithuania. Plague is ravaging the land around them, but they have thus far remained untouched by it. Our protagonist, Hanna (Hanni Furstenberg) is a woman whose child son died years earlier. She is still struggling with the grief of such a loss and unwilling to create another life as a result, despite the efforts of her husband. This runs counter to the familial and religious expectations of a wife at the time, causing Hanna to run the risk of being cast out of both her home and perhaps the village itself as well. A risk doubled by the fact that, against her society’s rules, she is an avid reader, particularly of ancient religious texts.
The are bigger dangers afoot, however. It seems the nearby plague-ridden village of Christians has up and decided that their plight is the cause of a Jewish curse. When a band of enraged Christian men arrive at their doorstep with an unreasonable ultimatum, the townsfolk become prisoners at the hands of bloodthirsty fanatics of another religion. Once it becomes clear that the local leadership will do nothing to stand up against these oppressors, Hanna takes it upon herself to deal with the problem. Utilizing her knowledge of sacred religious rites, she creates a golem to save them. Instead a hulking brute of an avenger, however, the being takes the shape and likeness of a small boy not unlike her dead son. Given its strong connection to her thoughts and the fact that she is still dealing with unhealed grief, things do not go exactly as planned.
The best monster movies are something more than just a story of an inhuman creature causing carnage and chaos. The Wolf Man is about fear of one’s self, foreign surroundings, and destiny. Dracula is about, among other things, the fear of foreigners coming in and stealing your most prized things. Frankenstein is about the fear of creation and man’s reach exceeding his desire to be responsible for his actions. Creature from the Black Lagoon deals largely with how we often tend to destroy that which we do not fully understand.
The Paz Brothers’ The Golem is about how grief can sour one’s intentions and be turned into a terrible weapon against those around them, be they familiar or a complete stranger. Hanna does this by literally weaponizing her grief and sorrow in the form of an unholy fiend. She is not the only character in the film that wields her pain against others, however. Even the Christians, with their guns, knives, torches, and plague death masks are terrorizing those around them out of desperation. This theme also plays out in a less violent in the way that Hanna is treated by both her husband and her father-in-law, who also happens to be the community’s religious elder.
We all grieve over many things in our lives as we grow older. For better or worse, grief is a natural part of the human experience. It’s never easy to deal with such feelings, but they are feelings that must be dealt with, lest they poison the mind and soul. The Golem knows this and imbues every beautiful frame with it.
Some will undoubtedly criticize the film for not having a typical hulking golem rampaging about the Lithuanian countryside, especially after such an iteration of the creature is briefly glimpsed in the opening. I myself felt this way for a stretch of the film, but by its end, it no longer mattered to me. The true horrors of this tale are not centered around a golem, but instead our willingness to harm one another as we attempt to fill the sorrow-caused holes within ourselves. Golem or no golem, all violence and death on display here is caused by humans. One could easily swap the titular fiend out for a machine gun, a chemical bomb, or a nuclear warhead and the message would remain the same.
Moving onto the physical release itself, this is yet handsome release from Dread. Once again, the sleeve is reversible and showcases alternate artwork on the other side. As far as special features go, there are a small amount of deleted scenes included, as well as a teaser and two trailers. Featurette-wise, this release is rocking a short interview with the directors from its FrightFest premiere, as well as two looks at the goings on behind-the-scenes on the film. The first one centers around actual production and the second on composer Tal Yardeni’s score. Both are largely composed of b-roll footage, so don’t expect to glean a lot of information from them, but it’s nice to see them on here regardless.
If you were dead set on finding out a lot of information about all aspects of the film, fear not. A feature-length commentary with the Paz Brothers and writer/producer Ariel Cohen is also on the disc. Between the three of them, they cover most everything you would like to know about the production.
The Golem is a keeper. While I do not find it to be a definitive take on the titular mythical creature, this is a great little slice of period piece horror. The central performances are all compelling, particularly Hani Furstenberg, and the production design is killer. This is a very well written and executed offering of deliberately-paced horror that calls to mind the classic works of Hammer and Amicus. It is a film that I am happy to now include in my collection.
The Golem is an original horror film. It was directed by Doron & Yoav Paz, from a screenplay by Ariel Cohen. The film was produced by Shaked Berenson, Ariel Cohen, Shalom Eisenbach, Patrick Ewald, Doron Paz, and Yoav Paz. It stars Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Brynie Furstenberg, Alex Tritenko, Lenny Ravich, Adi Kvetner, and Konstantin Anikienko.