The Golem is a 2019 horror film from Dread and Epic Pictures. The movie manages to take a centuries old story and effortlessly bring its story into modern times. It is a fun little horror movie with a 17th century setting and modern sensibilities. AiPT! spoke with one of the directors of the film, Daren Paz. The unedited interview with Paz can be found on episode four of Adventures in Movies!
AiPT!: The Golem is an old Jewish folktale and some people may not be familiar with that. What was your inspiration behind turning it into a movie since there’s been so many retellings of it?
Doron Paz: Yeah. So, okay, me and my brother, we co directed this movie. We made the feature film together. And when we start looking for our next project, we start looking into our own Jewish mythology, what we grew up on as Israeli kids. In Israel … and Jewish kids … everybody’s growing up on this, golem mythology. Which is a very simple story.
The foreigners like to kill the village, the Jewish village, and this rabbi built a creature made of clay and mud and everything. And it came to life and it protected the city or village. So the original story of the golem is very simple but when we started researching it, we realized that nobody ever does that with this subject as a feature film, proper feature film for over a hundred years. You can see the television stuff, the kids films, and stuff like that but not a proper feature film. So we started researching and developing the story into something much more dramatic and our own takes on this Jewish dark mythology.
AiPT!: How would you say that your version differs from those versions?
Paz: As I said before, the basic golem story is a great story, but it’s very simple. This rabbi builds this creature and then it got out of control and it deals a lot with what it’s like to play god and creating life. So when we start analyzing and thinking about what it’s like to deal with this idea, this theme of creating life, the first thing that popped to our head is being a mother. What it’s like to be a woman creating life, which is a trivial thing but when we stop and think about it … We’re both parents, me and my brother are fathers … And we say, “Okay, this is a crazy thing. Let’s create life.” In a way, this is what gave us the idea of our take for the story to have a golem kid, not just a golem monster.
And that’s why I think it’s much more dramatic, although it’s a horror movie, much more dramatic engine behind it about a couple losing his kid in the tragedy, trying to overcome it and deal with the grief and the circumstances made the woman … forces her to create this golem. In a way to replace the former dead kid. I think that’s what makes it much more interesting and much more intriguing.
AiPT!: Yep. Definitely, I agree. That’s kind of one of the things I really liked about your movie is that it’s a classic folktale but it has some very modern sensibilities. It deals with gender politics a little bit. Was it difficult to place the more modern aspects into such an old story?
Paz: I don’t know if it was difficult because we wanted to deal with the modern aspects of it. Because we are not religious Jews, we’re Jews but we’re not religious people, Orthodox people, but when we look at the Orthodox society, I think in almost every religion, the women are so oppressed and depressed and they don’t have a lot of rights.
In Israel, you can see that they’re not allowed to study, they’re not allowed to do a lot of stuff. So we wanted to deal with this subject and that’s why our character, Hanna, leads a rebellion. In a way, she’s a real rebel and she’s going against this thing. And she wants to study Kabbalah and Torah so she sneaks into the synagogue and study. Nobody could tell her what to do. She’s strong, she’s powerful, and I think it’s applicable with today’s life also, obviously.
AiPT!: You mentioned both of the actors that you cast, they did an excellent job in those roles. Were they familiar with the golem tale ahead of time or did you kind of have to bring them up to speed?
Paz: Okay, so the actors that played in the movie, they’re English-speaking but they’re Israeli. Originally, Hanna was born in the states … Hani Furstenburg, who plays Hanna and Ishai Golan, who plays Benjamin, they were born outside of Israel but they know, obviously, about the golem. They knew it before. It’s a very, very known tale in Israel and whoever is Jewish, I think, knows this basic story.
It’s a funny story, but when Hani, we reached out to her and we wanted to do an audition to check her out for the part. She heard it’s the golem and it’s a horror movie and she didn’t even read anything and she just didn’t come for the audition because she didn’t want to do a horror movie. And we were very insulted from that.
Only a week after, she read the script and she said, “Okay, this is a dark drama. This is not a classic horror, gory stuff that I imagined. This is much more deep, psychological, and much more compelling story than I thought.” And she got connected to the story immediately and we were lucky enough to have her. That’s why I think this angle … Obviously, it’s a horror movie, The Golem is a horror movie but beneath it lies something much deeper and more dramatic.
AiPT!: Was it important for you to stay true to the original story? Or were you just trying to do something entirely new and just use the original as your frame?
Paz: We wanted to do something new. We wanted to do our own take on the golem. The variation … our take for it. And another reason is we didn’t want to do a movie that the main character is three … four meters high made of clay and mud and walks around like a freaky creature.
We didn’t want to do a creature feature B-movie. We wanted to, again, to deal with a character-driven story, a dramatic story. So, that’s another reason we came up the kid, which eventually evolved into a big golem. But dealing with a golem kid, it’s much more interesting and much more challenging for the mind.
AiPT!: Are you planning on making more horror movies or are you going to be branching out?
Paz: Yeah, I mean my brother and I, we love genre movies. We like the dark side. It’s not specifically horror movies, obviously we like horror movies, but even our first feature film was a drama. A psychological drama but we always like to see if there’s an edgy … We’re attracted more to the edgy stuff and the dark side of human nature. I can’t imagine myself directing a romantic comedy or a soft-core drama. We’re always more attracted to the dark stuff and I think that’s more interesting. To deal with the deepest secrets of human nature.
You can call it horror but today, horror is a very broad word. Not all horror movies are just the gory stuff and blood splatters on the wall. It’s much more deeper than that. More intriguing and challenging to make a psychological horror and the dark side with dark ideas behind. So yeah, we would like to see ourselves continuing doing this kind of movie.
AiPT!: Nowadays, it’s popular to make franchises. This isn’t going to be a franchise, is it? Because I think it’s a really good standalone.
Paz: Who knows? Yeah. To be honest, we’re not planning a sequel soon but who knows? Even in history, by the way, it’s not just one story of the golem. There are several stories about the golem. Every few years, there was this rabbi building this creature. This mythology recycled itself for quite a while. So we think there is a chance … I don’t know, you’ll see Happy Meal dolls with the golem figure but it is a meaty thing. It has a potential of being a mini franchise, I think. Making sequels or prequels or whatever because it’s very … The Jewish mythology, not just the golem, the Jewish mythology has a lot of creatures, amazing creatures and amazing stories behind it. If you know the Lilith, a fierce fairy that kidnaps babies-
There’s so much dark mythology. Not just the known ones. The stuff that everyone knows. When you dig deeper in every culture, I think. Every culture deals with their own demons. If you go to Scandinavia, you will see northern gods and creatures. If you go to Africa, they will deal with their own boogeymen and stuff. I think in Judaism, the Kabbalah, there’s so much to deal with. It’s a very wide world. We call it the Jewniverse.