Monday, July 9, 2018

Zee Holy Zity

One of the beauties of cinema is that it takes us across the world to places we can only see if we summon the energy and funds to shop cheap international airfare and weather the jet lag. With that said, let's renew our imaginary passports and hop on a fantasy flight to demon-filled Israel!

Quick Plot: We open with a grainy video recap of a failed 1972 Israeli exorcism. As the subject sprouts a pair of wings before execution, we learn a telling Talmud proverb: there is a gate to hell in the city of Jerusalem.

Cut to present day New Jersey, a hell of a different sort. Slowly recovering from mourning the death of her brother, 20something Sarah heads to Israel with her wilder bestie Rachel. Armed with a new pair of Google glasses (which doubles as the film's camera), Sarah falls for an "American" wanderer named Kevin, who leads the ladies to historic Jerusalem for some unwinding in a hostel.

After the obligatory Americans-getting-hammered-with-handsome-locals buildup, something goes very, very wrong in the walled city. Self-proclaimed amateur anthropologist Kevin senses a dark presence, while a wandering crazy man ominously warns of trouble a'coming. He should know, since he was there some thirty years earlier, watching his mother turn into a demon.

Jerusalem is shut down, trapping citizens and tourists together to fight off the threat of a demonic contagion. Sarah and her pals attempt to flee via deep hidden tunnels. That goes about as well as you would expect.

Written and directed by the Paz Brothers, Jeruzalem's title spelling and categorization is a bit misleading. I went into this film expecting a zombie siege. That is not the case, and it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Like many a found footage horror film of the 21st century (and details aside, that is indeed the category where Jeruzalem sits), the film would probably be more enjoyable a watching experience had it abandoned its filmic concept for a standard camera approach. The gimmicky web-connected glasses gives us some fun insight early on, but we lose a bit of the suspense when a dark tunnel chase is stuck framed by a shaky human point of view. 

There's also the very typical, very disappointing issue prevalent in 90% of horror: young and bland protagonists. The only thing interesting about Sarah is her sadness over her brother (and in fairness, that pays off rather effectively), while Kevin is set up to be deeper than he ever shows onscreen. Yael Grobglas (from Rabies) and Tom Graziani register best as party girl Rachel and charming local Omar, but with its short window of "real time," the film just doesn't have to ability to do much with their characters.

I'm pointing out a lot of negatives about Jeruzalem because it's one of those early features from a directing team that clearly has a lot more potential going forward. They do an admirable job here, particularly in capturing the feel of a city most of us have never seen and using its own particular nature to mysterious effect. The idea of a sort of long-dormant demonic virus turning civilians into a very different form of the undead is also neat, and I welcome the sequel currently "in development" according to IMDB.

High Points
For as much as I didn't love all of the POV decisions, the final shot is rather brilliant and could only achieved with that style

Low Points
I said it recently with The Open House, and I'll say it again here: post-The Descent, it's simply not fun to have a terrified character accidentally impale a friend because said friend couldn't say, "Hey, it's me" but instead chose to quietly surprise the terrified friend holding a sharp object

Lessons Learned
There are worse bugs to find in your system than one that constantly plays videos of cats

Always listen to what King David has to say

When traveling abroad, consider choosing your lodging based on its proximity to the nearest mental asylum and bicycle supply

Jeruzalem is streaming on Netflix Instant, and it's certainly a decent way to pass 90 minutes. The build is somewhat slow, but it does present a unique variation on the kind of genre film we've been seeing nonstop for ten years. 

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