Directors – Doron Paz & Yoav Paz, Screenplay – Ariel Cohen, Producers – Ariel Cohen, Shalom Eisenbach, Doron Paz & Yoav Paz, Photography – Rotem Yaron, Music – Tal Yardeni, Visual Effects – Dan Sachar VFX House (Supervisor – Dan Sachar), Production Design – Sasha Drobot. Production Company – The Golem Partnership and Epic Pictures Group, Inc.
Hani Furstenberg (Hanna), Ishai Golan (Benjamin), Kirill Cernyakov (The Golem Kid), Brynie Furstenberg (Perla), Alexey Tritenko (Vladimir), Lenny Ravitz (Rabbi Horrovits), Adi Kvetner (Jacob), Veronika Shostak (Rebecca), Mariya Khomutova (Sarah)
A Jewish village in Lithuania in the year 1673. Hanna has been married to Benjamin for seven years. After their son died, they have been unable to conceive another child, although the reason for this is because Hanna has been secretly using a herbal contraceptive, Hanna also sneaks under the floorboards of the synagogue to listen to the men in the temple and is hungry for knowledge from the books of the cabbala that Benjamin out sneaks to her. The nearby town is suffering from a plague. A group of men led by Vladimir attack the village, accusing the Jews of causing the plague. The healer Perla offers to take Vladimir’s child and heal her to spare them. As the men gather to debate what to do, Hanna urges them to create a golem – an artificial creature made of clay that is raised by the Jewish people to protect them in times of need – but the idea is decried by the rabbi. After her sister dies in childbirth, Hanna goes out on her own and conducts the ritual to raise a golem. She then finds a strangely alien young boy in the barn and takes him in, treating him as her own child. The boy demonstrates abilities to kill their attackers. Soon however the golem child starts to kill everyone who threatens Hanna.
The Golem was the third film from Israel’s Paz Brothers, Doron and Yoav. They had previously made the non-genre Phobodilia (2009) and then had a hit with Jeruzalem (2015), which played at a number of horror and fantastic film festivals around the world.
The legend of the Golem comes out of Jewish folklore. The word ‘golem’ comes from Hebrew and is mentioned in one of the Psalms. In general usage however, it has a specific meaning as a creature of clay that is brought to life using cabbalistic lore. Legends of the golem date all the way back to the Middle Ages, the most famous of these being the story of Rabbi Loew of 16th Century Prague who is purported to have raised a golem to defend the Jewish ghetto from a pogrom only for the creature to go out of control.
German actor Paul Wegener appeared in the first film version The Golem (1914), which is lost today, and then co-directed and starred in The Golem (1920), which does survive and is the classic treatment of the theme telling the Rabbi Loew story. Further versions of the Golem legend include the French The Golem (1936), the Polish comedy The Emperor’s (1951), the cheap American horror film It (1966), an episode of the Czech portmanteau film Nights of (1968) and The X Files episode Kaddish (1997); while the idea of a golem was played for comedy in the Terry Pratchett mini-series Going Postal (2010).
The Paz Brothers went to shoot in Ukraine, building an actual village in a remote location outside of Kiev. This gives the film a sense of rooted historical authenticity – it sets it among a particular people in a particular culture during a particular time period. To this extent, the Paz Brothers have even imported Jewish actors in the parts of the Jews and cast local Ukrainians as the people of the land around them. Much of the film is set around observing the life of the time and place, the synagogue and cultural ritual. Although for all that, it should be noted that the Paz Brothers choose to shoot the film in English rather than in Hebrew as you might naturally expect – in other words, it is an Israeli film that has been made for international release rather than domestic markets.
The film is anchored by a particularly strong and sympathetic performance from Hani Furstenberg that provides a strong emotional core to the film. The major defiance of expectation that the Paz Brothers provide is when it comes to the nature of the golem. Rather than the traditional giant stumbling figure of clay, what we instead get a malevolent child. This is something unexpectedly different from any depiction of a golem we are used to – although we do briefly see the traditional giant figure of clay during the prologue. This becomes a stand in for the dead child that Hani Furstenberg mourns. It also has the power to kill and we see it attack those that are a threat to it (or Hani). This gradually emerges with some effect and the Paz Brothers certainly do not stint when it comes to gore.