✡✡✡1/2 out of ✡✡✡✡✡
What’s the best time to go on holiday to Jerusalem to see the sights? Probably not during the End of Days, as did the unfortunate young visitors stumbled into in the shaky-cam apocalyptic tale, JeruZalem.
JeruZalem is a rarity: a heavily Jewish themed horror film. It all sounded so innocuous and innocent. Sarah Pullman (Danielle Jadelyn) is a young woman grieving over the recent death of her brother and her best friend Rachael (Yael Grobglas) is going to cheer her up by joining her on a vacation getaway to lovely Tel Aviv to dance, drink, and find some handsome young men to party with and get Sarah over her funereal funk.
The ladies strike up a conversation with a charming young Anthropology student, Kevin (Yon Tumarkin). When they share their itinerary with him, he convinces them that they should bypass Tel Aviv, and instead, should join him on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. If they are traveling for Yom Kippur, they absolutely HAVE to go to the Holy City. They all conveniently ignore the red flags presented by Kevin that he is fascinated with the Apocalypse, the End of Days. Harbinger of doom alert!
The trio arrives at a wonderfully exotic hostel, where they meet a charming and handsome host, Omar (Tom Graziani), who ingratiates himself with the group, and it takes a remarkably short time for the group to couple up. Sarah with Kevin, and Rachael with Omar. Omar takes them (and the audience) on a walking tour of the city’s highlights. The Paz brothers really know how to show off the city, and it exudes exotic cool… which turns into claustrophobic dread.
We see this movie through the eyes of Sarah, who is wearing what in 2015 was supposed to be the next big thing… Google Glass, the spectacles with a head’s up display that act as a camera/media center and was to spark a new revolution of technology. We’re still waiting for that revolution, but it makes an effective shaky-cam found-footage conceit. What it does very well chronicles the “you are there” effect, as there is a lot of breaking the fourth wall moments as the other actors react directly to the “camera”.
Another effect of the Google Glass is that despite our protagonist nominally being Sarah, it is Rachael who becomes the actress in the forefront, since Sarah is essentially the viewer. It is much more effective than the usual trope of the camera holder POV, as it feels more natural, and it also has some fun moments where pop-up applications are used, like mapping and photo snapshots, plus the unfortunately timed cat videos and music streaming.
We were forewarned in the introduction of the film that the leaders of the great religions of Jerusalem had, thirty years ago, uncovered a portal from hell that spawned a recently deceased woman who comes back as a winged demon. The demon is killed, and the rabbis, priests, and imams all present kept it a secret. It’s for the good of the population, right? Uh-huh.
One man who does seem to know a bit more is the local crazy man, King David, who speaks of something dreadful coming. Kevin too senses something amiss, after touring Solomon’s mines but can’t put his finger on it. Kevin panics and starts ranting about needing to leave before it’s too late, but he goes a bit too far and is sequestered away in the local asylum which is as bad as the proverbial Turkish prison.
Interestingly, beyond the prophetic rantings of Kevin and King David, there isn’t a whole lot of build-up to the End of Days, but when it starts, it arrives with a bang. Israeli jets streak across the morning sky and start dropping bombs in the city. Local soldiers arrive in the hostel and announce that martial law is in place, and everyone is to evacuate.
Demons have been moving through the city, as well as the Nephilim, the great giants of biblical lore. At this point, the movie turns into something very much like Cloverfield, with a panicking population and glimpses of terrifying monsters on the periphery. Our protagonists have the benefit of local knowledge as Omar and his father try and find a way out, when the main gates get sealed.
The third act is a dizzying flight through Jerusalem, and it utilizes tropes familiar to zombie films and possession stories. It’s fairly thrilling, but a tad predictable. In a classic horror movie tradition, the production hides its budget by utilizing darkness and shadow to obscure the threat, which is a good thing. The SFX were unfortunately mediocre. The demons are fairly raggedy, and the modeling for the monsters is a little half baked. When in shadow, those demons are pretty spooky looking, and the audio for them is terrific. Those tattered bat wings, though? Not flight-ready with all those holes in them. Sorry.
There is some fairly heavy-handed plot structuring, particularly in how quickly and tightly the pairs bonded. You do care for the protagonists, but there are plenty of moments that feel a bit more manufactured that I would have liked. There are a couple of character breaking moments that are clearly designed to advance the plot, particularly a sequence in a bar where Kevin makes an inflammatory comment that comes out of nowhere, and is clearly put in the story to create some contrived tension.
Despite these shortcomings, JeruZalem is a solid movie, and the location alone makes it an exotic effort. It utilizes the best tropes of survival horror and the final third really pays off. The friendship between Sarah and Rachael feels real, and the use of Google Glass actually works pretty well. I’m not usually a fan of found footage horror films, but I think that they were able to utilize the perspective to frame an effective first-person experience.
JeruZalem is Rated R for some gore and intensity. I would put it at about 15 on the Scariest Things Horror Meter. Intense, but not stomach-turning. Interestingly it is one of the top 10 movies that Netflix audiences found too scary and couldn’t deal with. I’m not sure if I would put it up there, but it does have some decent scares to it. It is available streaming on Amazon Prime. Also, this film is featured on our Episode 95 Podcast: Holy Horror!