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The Golem (2019) Review: Modern yet true to its roots

‘The Golem’ takes much of its inspiration from Jewish folklore while putting a modern spin on its story.

A golem is a magical creature that is a part of Jewish folklore. A golem is a humanoid creature that is magically created. Though there are many variations on the classic tale, the most well known involve the golem being created as a savior who must eventually be destroyed. The Golem is a 2019 film produced by Epic Pictures. It is also the first film to be released from the Dread line. It takes much of its inspiration from Jewish folklore while putting a modern spin on its story.

The movie is directed by brothers Doron and Yoav Paz and is beautiful. Not the type of beauty that will make viewers marvel at landscapes (though there are some of those shots), but they type of beauty that captures moments. Quite simply, The Golem takes the viewer to another place.

Taking place in Lithuania in 1673, The Golem will bring its audience into its world. The movie takes place in an isolated village, so the standard definition of “beauty” does not apply here. What makes this film look so good is the detail in the camera work. The setting is supposed to be poor and dirty so that is how the movie looks. But it never looks homely or awful. It is excellent work that is so subtle it can easily be missed.

The Golem has has a great tone that engages its audience from the beginning. Initially, it is the questions of what has happened and why. Soon an air of constant dread is throughout the movie. There are constantly new fears being introduced, but there is the obvious fear that comes with the titular creature. There is also the plague, the simmering tensions between the people basically being held prisoner in their own village, and whether the village will turn on the film’s protagonist, Hanna. The audience is never allowed to get too comfortable.

There special effects are well done, with some very gruesome killings. There is a unique death scene when the golem’s power is first revealed. There are also some graphic battle scenes involving the villagers and their captors. The golem looks incredibly frightening. The early shots are especially well done and though it is common in horror movies, the golem’s eyes take on a particularly frightening look when it is about to kill.

The cast do well in their roles with Hani Furstenberg as Hanna and Ishai Golen as her husband Benjamin being the standouts. Benjamin looks constantly conflicted and Golen plays the role perfectly. From the opening scenes before the trouble has truly began to when he realizes how much danger everyone is in, Benjamin is in a constant state of worry. Early on, the audience is able to tell he carries much weight and responsibility. There is a quiet dignity to the character that makes him easy to get behind.

Hanna is a tortured soul who has gone to shocking lengths to get over a traumatic experience. Furstenberg does a wonderful job of never playing her role as the victim. The Golem takes a stab at gender politics. Furstenberg’s portrayal is authentic making Hanna come across as a stronger character for it. She is also asked to convey the more traditional emotions expected in a horror movie and does well in these scenes.

The Golem is well paced for the most part, but it definitely opens stronger than it closes. After its great opening, the movie starts to slide into many of the tropes associated with a scary movie. A dark figure will quickly dash in front of a camera, footsteps are heard in the attic of the house, and a mysterious bell rings. There is even a villain named Vladimir. None of these things ruin the movie – especially since it is based on a folk tale – but it is a noticeable shift.

The Golem is a great take on a very old story. Though its setting and inspirations are centuries old, the direction and storytelling have a modern feel to them. The movie starts to feel  familiar about midway through, but great acting and atmosphere more than make up.

The Golem (2019)
Is it good?
Based on a centuries old Jewish folk talk, 'The Golem' uses modern sensibilities to craft an engaging story.
Great work from the cast
Excellent direction
Sets an excellent tone
Has many horror movie tropes
7.5
Good
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