Jeruzalem, the first feature from brothers Doran and Yoav Paz, has a tantalizing premise. For one thing, it’s not a found footage movie, at least according to the pair of Israeli filmmakers. They have called Jeruzalem a “POV” film, which is quite accurate and could probably be applied to a few more recent horror films like Open Windows, iLived, and Unfriended. It’s an interesting idea, but does it work? Yes and no, but more on that later.
Jeruzalem also doesn’t use the Z word, at least not at first. Nor should it, because the monsters in this movie are sort of like a cross between zombies, fallen angels, and vampires. Perhaps “apocalyptic revenants” would be more appropriate.
The Paz brothers have made no secret of their adoration of Jaume Balagueró’s game-changing zombie film [REC], and fans will spot a few key scenes that pay direct homage to that film. Like [REC], Jeruzalem seeks to do something different with a subgenre of horror that’s frequently accused of being oversaturated.
So what of that other subgenre that’s frequently accused of being oversaturated? Just because you don’t call it “found footage” doesn’t mean people aren’t going to interpret it that way, but the Paz brothers have also said that they had the idea for the film a few years ago but didn’t know how to realize it until Google Glass was invented.
Friends Rachel (Yael Grobglas) and Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) are flying to Tel Aviv to take advantage of the city’s hot night life. Along the way, they meet archaeology student Kevin (Yon Tumarkin) who convinces them that Jerusalem is a way cooler place to hang out. Sarah has an instant crush on Kevin and Rachel is the kind of young woman who supports her friend in spontaneous decisions, so the pair follows him there. At the local youth hostel, Rachel hooks up with Omar (Tom Graziani) and the four have a bit of fun partying until things get weird, all of which we witness through the pair of Google Glasses Sarah’s father gave her right before her trip.
I don’t want to spoil Jeruzalem, but you can probably guess that zombies are somehow involved, along with quite a bit of shaky cam. The zombies don’t show up until almost halfway through the film’s roughly 90-minute running time, which would be fine if it built up some kind of tension before that point. It does not. The creature effects are actually not bad, but Jeruzalem relies far too much on cheap jump scares to be effectively frightening, with one big exception.
The Paz brothers don’t delve into the history of religious infighting that plagues much of the area. Sarah and Rachel are Jewish, Kevin is Catholic, and Omar is Muslim, but they all get along very well and their different religious beliefs never become problematic or the main focus of the film. It would be difficult to make a movie about the region without bringing terrorism into the picture, and Jeruzalem does, but not in the way you might expect. It also talks about what happens to victims of a battered mental health system thanks to “Jerusalem Syndrome” (among other ailments) and does so in a way that’s creepy but also humanistic.
In fact, that segment of the movie, which makes up the better part of the second half, is actually the most engaging and harrowing, especially considering the subtext of mortal versus immortal enemies. If the focus of Jeruzalem had been on this aspect and not the zombie apocalypse it might have been a tremendous film. Despite the neat trick of filming everything with Google Glass, it doesn’t totally work for this story and Jeruzalem would have been far better served by being filmed with more conventional methods.
Still, it’s an interesting conceit and it’s one that reveals that the Paz brothers aren’t afraid to try new things, even if they might seem like old tricks upon first glance.
Jeruzalem opens today at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto and is also available on iTunes and VOD.