In 1915, the first of a trilogy of silent films was produced. The Golem, based on Gustav Meyrink’s 1914 novel mixed with general European folklore, is the first in a trilogy all written and directed by Paul Wegner (along with others, specific to each film). The first movie is partially lost, though it is possible to watch the clips that do remain for free online. Its first sequel is lost, again, save for a few pieces. The third film, commonly referred to as The Golem as well, released in 1920, is a prequel and is the most well known, in part because the whole thing is intact. It also happens to be my favorite German Expressionist horror film from that timeframe.
Aside from that notable early movie, the magically-created creature has been mainly out of the popular culture sphere. It has shown up on occasion in a random horror movie here, an X-Files episode there, or in a book every once in a while, but compared to its other terror-inducing brethren, it is not as well known or iconic. Now, thanks to horror imprint Dread (formerly Dread Central Presents) a new horror movie based around the ancient Jewish monster is being released.
The Golem begins in Lithuania in 1673. A plague is sweeping through the larger towns in the area. Though a small village of Jewish residents remains untouched due to their general isolation from the rest of society; this makes the community quite suspicious to the outsiders, who view them with scorn and consider them dangerous.
“Hanna uncovers the hidden words in one of her secretive texts that are used to create the Golem.…”
In the village, Hanna (Hani Furstenberg) is still grieving the loss of her son Joseph seven-years earlier. Benjamin (Ishai Golan), her husband, wants another child but Hanna is resistant, unable to fathom how she’d deal if this new child were to die as well. Yet she does having an inquiring mind, and she convinces Benjamin to acquire ancient books with supposed great power.
As the plague worsens, Vladimir (Alex Tritenko) brings his dying daughter to the Jewish settlement. He threatens them with death unless they can cure his child. The elders decide to try and help as much as they can, but Hanna senses great danger and wishes to fight back. To that end, Hanna uncovers the hidden words in one of her secretive texts that are used to create the Golem. It takes the shape of her long-dead son and obeys her command to protect her. However, can the Golem be controlled? Is the Jewish community in more danger now with it lurking about?
Written by Ariel Cohen and directed by Doron and Yoav Paz The Golem (2019) is quite an engaging little film. The cinematography by Rotem Yaron is excellent, using shadows to very creepy effect while highlighting the impressive set design. The movie works equally well as a drama about coming to terms with loss and a horror movie. Perla (Brynie Furstenberg), the town healer, walks into Hanna and Benjamin’s house at night to destroy the boy. She talks about how they’ve encountered him before and then the Golem strikes. Next scene is blood slowly trickling onto Benjamin’s pillow, which wakes him up, and he goes to investigate and uncovers the corpse. He understandably freaks out.
So, Benjamin lures the Golem away by playing the violin, into the synagogue where the men there are trying to destroy it, Hanna is linked to the monster and feels slight pain wherever he is weakened. She races to the building, screaming for them not to kill her child. It is a compelling dramatic moment. In short order, there is a genuinely creepy moment and a very dramatic one. Some horror movies can’t do either one of those elements right, much less both at roughly the same time.
“…works equally well as a drama about coming to terms with loss and a horror movie.”
The acting is also quite excellent by all involved. Hani Furstenberg’s headstrong demeanor is believable, as is her grief over Joseph. The desperation she feels at the end of the movie comes across in spades. Every part her equal, Ishai Golan’s quiet ways bring a lot of power. When he does speak, it is crucial, and when he decides to take charge and try to remove the outside threats, it is powerful. The rest of the cast are all just as good.
However, I do find the invaders effectively quarantining the Jews to be a bit weak. Vladimir is not engaging and is a little too over-the-top for the more grounded horror that the rest of the movie strives to be. His henchmen have even fewer traits, only serving as body count fodder. I understand in horror movies such things need to exist. However, so much care is put into the Jewish community, our leads specifically, and the legend behind the Golem that these people being one note stands out all the more and does hurt the movie a tiny bit.
The Golem is creepy, as the cinematography is awash with atmosphere and the use of such a creature is interesting. The dramatic side of things mostly holds up as well, and when combined with the excellent acting, the movie turns out to be very effective and memorable.
The Golem (2019) Directed by Doron Paz, Yoav Paz. Written by Ariel Cohen. Starring Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Brynie Furstenberg, Alex Tritenko.
8 out of 10 stars