A religious horror film can be one of the most effective offerings of that diverse genre, beyond the fear for personal safety of most horror to a fundamental and subversive undermining of all the comforting beliefs of western society; consider Rosemary’s Baby, The Dunwich Horror, The Exorcist, The Omen, The Seventh Sign, The Prophecy, the idea that the deity we have been told of since childhood is not in fact all powerful and benevolent but rather is indifferent, or angry and vengeful, that there are other powers greater and darker.
These films will only be referenced as benchmarks in order to demonstrate just how pitifully the Paz brothers’ Jeruzalem fails in every measurable way; its name is not destined to be etched into any stone tablets, rather it should be cursed and thrown into the wilderness, struck from the record to pass mercifully from memory.
The opening is promising, if hugely derivative, styled after the current generic standard of horror movie trailers, badly preserved footage, stained and scratched and discoloured, old photos with the eyes blackened out, the ominous voiceover quoting from the Talmud that “there are three gates to hell; one in the desert, one in the ocean, and one in Jerusalem.”
It was in 1972 that two priests captured the footage in “this city where there is so much hatred it runs deep into the ground, waking the dead,” a woman who died of typhus three days previously but who has risen again, possessed by a demonic spirit. “They all believed in different gods, but on that night they were dealing with the same devil.” Unable to save the woman, she was executed by a holy man in front of the son who had been woken by her knocking at the door only hours before.
Unfortunately, these are the only few moments in the film worth watching, transforming the moment the title has been presented to the most intrusive and persistently annoying found footage movie yet conceived and produced, as in the present day bestest friends Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) and Rachel (Yael Grobglas) fly together to Tel Aviv on their pilgrimage to the holy land and their destination of Jerusalem.
A deeply spiritual location, a centre of culture, of history, of art, of religious significance, of racial tension, of international attention and import, Sarah and Rachel treat it like their own personal playground, hanging out with Kevin (Yon Tumarkin), hot boy they met on the plane who happens to be staying at the same guest house and Omar (Tom Graziani), hot local guide who knows where the party is and where to get high.
The tired and clichéd contrivance of ubiquitous videoing of every inconsequential moment which normally drives found footage being insufficient, instead the film is seen through the eyes of Sarah’s near-indestructible smart glasses on which she can receive Facebook updates and video calls from distant doting dad and listen to the torture of hipster folk music and play games fighting virtual reality zombies, all while operating hands free and apparently with infinite battery life.
This offers the narrative shortcut that rather than having to go through the archaic process of actually introducing characters, via the instant “facial recognition app” they can just have their names flashed up on screen, sometimes uploading alongside handy dandy plot exposition! It’s my bestest friend Rachel Klein! Here are our flight times and destination! Kevin is an anthropologist! It’s a photo of dead brother Josh who I miss lots and lots! (cue sad face emoji)
Losing her prescription spectacles when her bag is snatched on the streets of Jerusalem, Sarah has no other choice but to use her smart glasses for the entire film, videoing everything as she goes, but at least she has the reassurance that she won’t get lost as she has a map app, until it breaks and yes, she gets lost in the winding back alleys, only to be rescued by Kevin whom she rewards with on-camera sexy time.
The locations genuinely breathtaking, honest, vibrant, steeped in centuries of tradition and history, as the sun sets on Yom Kippur and the city closes down, two fighter jets roar overhead and an explosion is seen too close for comfort. Soldiers flood through the streets, telling the residents and tourists that they are being evacuated prior to the closure of the gates, and for one moment there is a genuine sense of panic when nobody knows what is happening, not even the soldiers.
With almost fifty minutes passed before anything of interest happens, Jeruzalem then spends ten minutes mutating into an average zombie movie before attempting a Clovefield, right down to giant unstoppable beastie rampaging across the city with smaller beasties infecting those they bite, before finally admitting it doesn’t have a clue what it’s doing and collapsing back into underground zombie chase for a final twenty minutes which are utter and pointless nonsense.
Oblivious to the fact that modern technologies are tools through which a story can be told, not a story in and of itself, the vast potential held by the history, importance and physical presence of their 5,000 year old principal filming location is utterly wasted on Doron and Yoav Paz’ below-par by-the-numbers script which adds up to precisely nothing and the egregiously infuriating gimmick by which they have presented it.