“When telling our story, it’s impossible to separate the truth from the myth.”
Isn’t that always the way? The Golem attempts to reach back deep into Hebrew history and update one of the world’s oldest monster stories. It’s a myth very much steeped in tradition and cinema history. A golem is a creature made from clay/dirt and animated as a means of revenge. Think of it as Pumpkinhead without all of the claws and teeth. The creature has been the subject of a few films going all the way back to the classic 1915 silent film of the same name. One of the more underappreciated versions of the story appears in the 1967 Roddy McDowall film It. Of course, the original story is a cautionary tale akin to the old saying that a man intent on revenge should begin by digging two graves. It’s a popular story, and it’s no surprise to find that it still has legs 100 years after its first appearance in film and centuries after the traditional story. With a limited budget and an authentic Israeli team, there are some aspects of this one that just might end up worth a quick look.
Just as in the traditional story, the film takes place in the 17th century and in Lithuania. Hanna (Furstenberg) lives in an isolated Jewish community where her husband Benjamin (Golan) is the son of the community leader and rabbi. Because she is a woman, she is forbidden to participate in the important rituals or to read the scared texts. But she watches from under the crude temple’s floorboards and sneaks looks at the texts. The couple have been suffering for seven years since the drowning death of their young son. No children followed, and it has become a source of tension between the couple and the rabbi. In a nearby village of gentiles the plague has reached the population, and they suspect some kind of witchcraft from the Jews, because they have yet to be infected. When a leader’s daughter comes down with the deadly disease, he brings the sickened girl to the Jewish community and threatens violence if they don’t lift the curse and his daughter dies. The resulting violence delivered by the ignorant gentiles pushes Hannah to resurrect the dreaded Golem of the forbidden texts. The result comes in the form of a young boy whom she begins to see as her son. The two are bound, and the golem feels her strong feelings and comes to her aid with brutal results. Will the creature get out of control and be more dangerous than the human threat? Odds are pretty good you already know the answer to that question.
For such a limited budget, the film’s actors are actually quite good. You really do get a wonderful feeling of connection between the characters, and particularly between Hanna and Benjamin. Hanna’s connection to this creature is a genuine and complicated emotion tug throughout the film. There are wonderful underpinnings here that I found more than a little compelling. This is certainly no cardboard monster. It’s also quite atmospheric for the most part. The locations and sets pieces are once again pretty solid for the budget. But the film’s fatal flaw is an unnecessary use of computer-generated images. There’s too much CG blood, and it adds a comic-book style to a film that is really in conflict with that kind of f/x. The filmmakers should have taken an element of their own story and shown more faith in the resources and skills that they had. The CG blood stands out, and it’s such a pity, because it ruins a carefully crafted atmosphere that some filmmakers would kill to have. To turn a popular phrase on its end, every time I thought I was in, they pull me back out.
The golem itself is a young boy played by Konstantin Anikienko, and it’s also a mixed bag. The creature isn’t all that menacing, but the kid has a pretty good deadpan look that can be more than a little creepy and unsettling. Think a little bit about Damien in the original The Omen. That would be great if they hadn’t decided to muck up yet another good thing with unnecessary computer work. At times there’s a bit of creaking and lines added to the face through CGI, and it looks bad. These guys didn’t have the budget for convincing computer graphics, but the truth is they didn’t need any of it. It was wasted money that worked against each of the film’s diligent departments. By the time it was over, I was impressed by so much of what I saw but wished I could have resurrected my own creature to get these guys away from any computer keyboards. The film shows some real talent on and off the screen for compelling filmmaking. Should have resisted the modern tech temptation. “God has assigned you a calling, and you’re refusing it.”