Over a hundred years after Paul Wegener’s Der Golem (1915), the Israeli JeruZalem directing team of Doron and Yoav Paz – working from a script by Ariel Cohen – return to the archetypal Jewish myth of a Faust-cum-Frankenstein rabbi and the uncontrollable clay avenger he brings to life using the secrets of the Kabbalah, and deliver an impressive, grim, period supernatural horror movie which is essentially Fiddler on the Roof meets Pet Sematary. Blessed with a powerhouse performance from leading lady Hani Furstenberg, who brings a little Yentl to the table, The Golem adddresses primal, eternally relevant themes with confidence.
A prologue, set in Prague, shows the aftermath of the original golem’s ravages, and features an impressively bulky silhouette clay creature who could fill out Wegener’s shadow. Then, some years later, in the wilds of Lithuania, a shtetl is in peril when Vladimir (Alex Tritenko), headman of a neighbouring gentile village, decides to blame the isolated, uninfected Jews for the plague that has broken out among his people. Perla (Brynie Furstenberg), the shtetl’s healer (and a witness to the previous golem incident), tries to cure Vladimir’s sick daughter – as the murdering thug promises a pogrom if she doesn’t get better. Hanna (Hani Furstenberg), still grieving for a drowned son, goes against the wishes of her rabbi father-in-law (Lenny Ravich) and weak-willed husband (Ishai Golan) and sneaks a look at forbidden tomes of Jewish lore, then raises a golem to protect her people.
Rather than the hulks seen in most golem movies, the clay creature takes the form of Hanna’s dead son (Daniel Cohen), a blank-eyed child who doesn’t speak (he has a parchment in his mouth with the life-giving secret name of God written on it) and seems more in need of protection than capable of self-defence … but can rip enemies apart with bursts of Flash-speed (demonstrated in a hallucinatory scene from the POV of Hanna as she dangles from a lynch mob noose) or use a Fury-like psychic power to make heads explode. Psychically linked to its mother, to the extent that a wound inflicted on one bleeds on the other, the golem is a temporary solution, but follows Hanna’s instincts and emotions rather than her direct orders – leading to excesses when she is temporarily jealous of her husband’s flirtation with a fertile widow and an orgy of mutually assured destruction when Vladimir begins his final assault on the village that can be read as an editorial about the perilous consequences of division, vengeance, violence and terror in any number of trouble spots around the world in general and Israel in particular.
It has something of a spaghetti western feel, with outlaws terrorising a village until a hero arises … but also evokes the Japanese Majin films, in which a stone statue comes to life when its innocent peasant worshippers are massacred by feudal bullies.