Studio: Epic Pictures Group
Director: Yoav Paz, Doron Paz
Writer: Yoav Paz, Doron Paz
Producer: Yoav Paz, Doron Paz
Stars: Yael Grobglas, Yon Tumarkin, Danielle Jadelyn, Tom Graziani
Two friends have their holiday in Jerusalem thrown into chaos when a biblical prophecy begins resurrecting the dead.
“Jeruzalem” fits as “found footage” for simplicity’s sake, though its premise positions it a little more accurately as a POV perspective film. From dear old dad, Sarah has just received a swanky new Google Glass headset, which is already a perfect birthday gift for her girlfriend getaway in Tel Aviv with gal pal Rachel. But the smart spectacles go from trendy accessory to indispensible must-wear after a pint-sized street thief pilfers the backpack with Sarah’s other pair of prescription eyeglasses.
Kevin, an exotic anthropology student met on the airplane, convinces the two Israel-bound ladies to take a detour into Jerusalem. The newly-minted trio becomes a quartet when Kevin’s local friend Omar crews up, creating a fun-focused foursome touring the city for Holy Land sightseeing by day and club-hopping nightlife after dark.
Sarah would rather figuratively let down her hair and literally go down on Kevin in a bar bathroom. Except Kevin can’t shake some nagging nausea stemming from research rattling his brain as well as his nerves. Kevin thinks he has uncovered a conspiracy by religious leaders to keep it a secret that the end of days is at hand. It seems Armageddon may be more than mere prophecy after all, and that means demons returning from the dead and wreaking havoc in spectacularly supernatural fashion.
Horror is now decades deep in a post-“The Blair Witch Project” landscape and many vocal fans remain incredulous that the first-person format is still a thing. You are well met to have read this far then. Like myself, maybe this means you’ve yet to abandon all hope that the subgenre has not in fact died at the bottom of its nadir.
The creativity of “Jeruzalem” makes the movie a light at the end of that tunnel, though the full film is not a complete Steve McQueen escape from the darkness. Massive mileage mainly comes courtesy of the stunning Middle Eastern setting. Filmmaking brothers Yoav and Doron Paz ride that location lightning further with a fearlessness to go a little berserk in realizing their apocalypse-themed fiction, too.
“Jeruzalem” summons spirits from some of the best “found footage” films. Bodies raining from above bring to mind “[REC]” (review here). Historic catacomb spelunking conjures “As Above, So Below” (review here). Travelers abroad encountering mutating evil echoes “Afflicted” (review here). A shade of “Trollhunter” comes from the delightful audacity to put a kaiju-sized creature onscreen crushing buildings, real world grounding be damned. For good measure, swarthy locals in the supporting cast and a foreign hostel providing shelter tip a cap to Eli Roth. None of this is theft. The Paz Brothers have studied up on the horrific high points of first-person films and find effective ways to hit similar beats in their own story.
Seeing the bonkers biblical backstory explode in the Old Testament’s epicenter is devilishly entertaining. Crumbling temple walls and tight city streets take so much out of the first act’s familiar feel that its 45-minute ramp-up to chaos is infinitely more enjoyable because of the terrific tour alone.
Additionally ingenious is the religious apocalypse angle. No need for backstories of witches and serial killers or an abandoned hospital’s horrid history when several thousand years of mythology is inherently included, and already engrained in most people’s minds.
The Google Glass conceit also fills the function of being somewhat fresh for a “found footage” format. One clever use plays for good laughs when dad unknowingly times his “what’s up my sweet pumpkin?” text messages to pop into view while daughter is busy undressing and straddling a relative stranger.
Once literal Hell starts breaking loose, the far-fetched fantasy sees credibility hits not from its concept, but from mildly mistuned acting. Most of the cast could benefit from a double espresso dose of panic in their performances. For having laid eyes on winged creatures while fighter jets drop bombs, many characters are shockingly calm.
The movie then takes that terror and funnels it through a haunted house hallway of scare actor spooks. Characters explore an asylum in one scene as screaming lunatics lunge and hands thrust from windows while lights strobe in the background. These tactics are perfect for a Halloween haunt, though not nearly as exciting when experienced in a motion picture.
“Jeruzalem” is a movie whose ambitious design and daring to merge serious stakes with cinematic kookiness demands more appreciation than the end product allows. Barring the movie from climbing higher than it can is a climax suddenly reticent to go all in and cash out its crazy chips. With the script in need of a revision for its final 10 or 15 pages, there should be an outrageous ending leaving viewers gape-mouthed in a manner that plot and premise seem to promise.
The visuals and the story continue growing bigger and bigger as monsters swarm the city, explosions backlight fleeing citizens, and increasing insanity engulfs everything in sight. The third act then loses that momentum by suddenly narrowing all remaining action to a dark cave. Though the film has a fairly inventive closing shot, late scenes see scope further reduced when Sarah’s Google Glass cracks, forcing final moments to be filtered through a fractured lens. It’s a misplaced flourish that doesn’t heighten authenticity enough to be worth what the trick trades in accessibility as a viewing experience.
Ignoring the Con column is a hill worth climbing, however. As mentioned, the outstanding Jerusalem backdrop is consistently attractive, at least to unfamiliar eyes, and nearly enough reason to go along on Sarah and Rachel’s disastrous vacation. Plenty of madness and originality exists in the setup to hop “Jeruzalem” over the mediocrity bar holding down most “found footage” entries, as well. If only the Paz Brothers doubled down on their bets instead of playing it safe, their movie just might have knocked down that bar completely.
Review Score: 65