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John’s Horror Corner: The Golem (2018), the intersection of kids in horror, folk horror and Jewish folklore.

March 11, 2019

MY CALL: Highly recommended as a rental, and perhaps a good purchase for fans of folk horror. Creepy but not jumpy, gory but not gooey, gorgeously and well-concepted. MOVIES LIKE The Golem: For more recent folk horror try Apostle (2018; podcast discussion), The Ritual (2017; podcast discussion), The Witch (2016; podcast discussion), The Village (2004), The Shrine (2010), or Salem (2014-2017).

Assessing this film is a challenge. The trailer struck me as that of a serious film, yet the poster could be something you deliberately never watch called “Apocalypse Child.” Some scenes scream over-the-top potential with mangled bloodied bodies and body parts scattered across a church as a hulking menace grumbles and growls in a dark corner obscured from sight; others are crisp and gorgeous and classy more to the tune of The Village (2004) or The Witch (2016) as we meet Hanna (Hani Furstenberg; American Gods), whose fair skin and bright hair appealingly contrast lovely shots of her drably palleted 1763 Lithuanian village. In general, I find the photography immersive and graceful. The acting, writing and wardrobe are okay—but do no justice to the quality of the shots encapsulating them.

When superstitious gentiles blame Jewish curses for their losses to a deadly plague, Hanna turns to a long-forbidden mystical ritual to create a Golem to protect her village. But Hanna does not understand the dangerous power of the magic she has conjured in the form of a seemingly innocent boy.

The child has an obvious darkness about him, and his supernatural power is no secret when he feels threatened. This puts this film on the verge of “evil children” horror. We don’t see much on-screen, but this little boy tears people apart leaving brutally severed limbs in his bloody wake. And the gore is satisfying. We don’t see everything I’d like to see, but we still see plenty including some visceral head exploding and heart rips.

Directors Yoav and Doron Paz (Jeruzalem) have great vision behind the camera and excellent ideas. But the writing really stood out as a weakness amid this otherwise gorgeous film. I feel the Paz brothers would benefit from teaming up with other writers. Whereas “kids in horror” pose certain expected tropes, this film doesn’t seem snagged upon them. The concepts exploring Jewish folklore find both the classically monstrous Golem, as well as the “Omen child” for us to realize it is not the large body behind the Golem’s strength, but the dark magic. And giving this power such a familiar face perhaps enables characters to recognize their mistakes in summoning this entity, which seems not to care whom it kills.

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