Jeruzalem: ‘Found Footage’ genre gets a much-needed reboot in this smart, stylish horror flickOnline Only, Section 4A, Entertainment News, Movie Review, Bottom Highlights Monday, February 8th, 2016
Oy vey. Israel and, more specifically, Jerusalem can’t seem to catch a break. When they aren’t being labelled terrorists for occupying Palestinian lands, ostracized by the words and actions of a hawkish prime minister or seen through the false prism of violent acts perpetrated by religious Jewish extremists, they now have an epic apocalypse to deal with and during Yom Kippur no less.
JeruZalem, which opened in theaters and VOD Jan. 22, is the next iteration in a crowded field of ‘Found Footage’ horror pics that have capitalized on the enormous success of the breakthrough picture The Blair Witch Project which opened in 1999 to critical and commercial success. The film was shot on a shoestring budget of $60,000 dollars but went on to gross almost $150 million dollars worldwide. It upended traditional horror tropes and injected much needed blood into a category of movies that seemed adrift. Since then, lovers of the genre have had a veritable feast of riches. A quick search of the IMDb Web site turns up no less than 173 ‘Found Footage’ films including such now-standard classics as Paranormal Activity (2007), [Rec] (2007), The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014), and The Last Exorcism (2010). (I am not including Cloverfield (2008) because it was less a horror flick and more movie monster-ish.)
JeruZalem begins with a narrator ominously intoning that the hatred and blood spilled from years of tribal warfare in the region had seeped into the ground waking the dead. One such person, a victim of Typhus in 1972 known only as Mary, returns three days later and, well, as you can expect from someone who’s been dead for three days, she’s not feeling like herself. Rabbis and others from a broad range of religious disciplines are summoned to exact the maleficent spirit from her and, after hours to no avail, ending up putting a bullet in her head.
Flash forward to today. Sarah Pullman, a privileged Jew from the New Jersey suburbs, and her best friend, Rachel Klein, are preparing for a trip to Tel Aviv. As a present, Sarah’s dad buys her a pair of Google-like smart glasses to take with her that record video, take pictures, play music, provide GPS and connect with Skype, all by voice command and, apparently, do not require any recharging. (Smart!)
On the plane, the two carefree twenty-somethings meet Kevin Reed, a charming, good-looking anthropology student who is headed to the Holy City to investigate the previously hidden footage of the 1972 incident buried deeply in Vatican archives. He explains that the three religions that consider Jerusalem the most sacred place all have names for this phenomenon. For Muslims, it’s the Dark Angel. For Jews, it’s Golem. And, just in case there is any confusion, for Christians it’s Zombies or The Undead.
Rachel, who calls her boyfriend Drake back home “a lousy lay,” is clearly ginned up for adventures of the more carnal kind and, when Kevin suggests they come to the Holy City for a few days, easily convinces the more reluctant Sarah before acquiescing. Once there, Kevin, world traveler he, takes them to the Fauzi Azar Inn, a hostel inside the Old City where more hip, beautiful people await including the impossibly good-looking hostel host, Omar Hazari. From there, things begin to take a turn for the worse. While walking around the city that evening, Sarah’s backpack is stolen and while chasing the very young assailant through the winding, claustrophobic alleyways that make up the Old City, she hears screams off in the distance accompanied by monstrous growls.
I don’t want to say too much more by giving away all the plot points. I’d rather spend time talking about how the writing/directing team of Yoav and Doron Paz – collectively known as the PAZ brothers, especially in Israel where they are widely respected – manage to take a rather routine idea and deftly weave some very clever touches all the while providing some genuinely frightening moments.
It starts with the turbulence the three experience on the plane after Kevin explains his mission. (Perhaps a nod to the baby at the beginning of The Blair Witch Project who only started crying when the interviewee mentioned the witch’s name?) Or, the use of a virtual zombie game Sarah tries out in the safety of her New Jersey home that later serves her interests in the Solomon Quarries when she is under attack by the undead. Or the causally – but carefully constructed – introduction to the asylum where tourists are taken who suffer from Jerusalem Syndrome. (Jerusalem Syndrome is a condition some have attributed to tourists who experience psychotic episodes such as a Messianic Complex when confronted by the intensity of the Old City. The theory has been largely discredited by health care professionals who have argued that these people were mentally unstable to begin with.) Or the brief, but important, introduction of a young boy on film from the 1972 footage who later turns up on the trio’s visit to Jerusalem.
Perhaps the most intriguing element of JeruZalem is the use of the smart glasses. In most ‘Found Footage’ films, we are at the mercy of the narrator or first-person perspective of whoever holds the camera equipment. But by replacing that point-of-view with an arguably objective piece of technology, we, as viewers, begin to rely on them as a sort of buffer from the horrors that are unfolding on the screen. So when the glasses lose their network – causing unsettling feelings of unease, for example, when the GPS is disabled – or when they suddenly erupt with blaring rock tunes in the midst of the breakdown occurring around the characters as they attempt to flee the city, we are asked to feel that dread as well. I know I did.
I have no doubt that JeruZalem is going to be a fan favorite. It doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence and successfully builds a backstory that allow the audience to actually like, if not care for, the main characters. And as any fan of horror films will tell you, if you don’t like the people on scream, you’ll cheer their demise instead of secretly rooting for their survival. And survival, horror movie fans will also tell you, is what it’s all about.
Rent, own, VOD: http://jeruzalemmovie.com/on-demand–vod
Directors and writers: Directors: Doron Paz, Yoav Paz
Sarah Pullman………………..Danielle Jadelyn
Howard Pullman…………….Howard Rypp
Rachel Klein…………………..Yael Grobglas
Kevin Reed………….…………Yon Tumarkin
Omar Hazazi…………………..Tom Graziani
Running Time: 95 minutes. Rated ‘R’ for sexual content, language, violence
And finally …
While The Blair Witch Project is widely recognized as the modern day father of the ‘Found Footage’ genre of horror flicks, a little known movie called Cannibal Holocaust (1980) deployed the same concepts back in the day. Gizmondo describes the film as “The grand dame of cannibal films…[a] nugget of nasty trash-sploitation [that contains] offensive, violent, racist, and allegedly real animal torture. “ If nothing else, it has, perhaps, one of the most surreal coming attractions for any horror movie I’ve ever seen.
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