JeruZalem Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Released by Epic Pictures
Written and directed by Doron Paz and Yoav Paz
2016, 94 minutes, Not Rated
Released theatrically and On Demand on January 22nd, 2016
Yael Grobglas as Rachel
Danielle Jadelyn as Sarah
Yon Tumarkin as Kevin
Sarah's brother has been dead for a year but she can't move on. So Rachel (Danielle Jadelyn) plans a trip to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, a whirlwind adventure to help get Sarah (Yael Grobglas) out of her rut. On the plane they meet Kevin (Yon Tumarkin), who convinces them to go to Jerusalem first to be there for Yom Kippur. Unfortunately, on this most holy night of the year, a gate has opened under the city. A gate to hell.
Using a verse from Jeremiah 19 in the Talmud, "R. Jeremiah ben Elazar said again, 'Hell has three gates: One in the desert, one in the sea, and one in Jerusalem' as it is written [Numbers xvi. 33]" (found here), The Paz Brothers create a tale of Judgement Day arriving with a vengeance. No atonement is enough and dark spirits arise to walk the streets of Jerusalem and prey on those living in and visiting the city – including Rachel and Sarah.
JeruZalem is a fun action movie and the Smart Glass (a Google-Glass knockoff that records, zooms, photographs, navigates, etc.) premise is smooth way to incorporate a found-footage or first-hand feel to what is happening around Sarah. The effects are clean, the jump scares are always gratifying, and the filmography is really beautiful. The adventure these girls experience is charming and exciting.
It's Sarah that doesn't quite work. I can't tell if she's brave or cowardly, or if she's strong or weak. It is, of course, possible for someone to be both simultaneously, but for Sarah it's not clean development and it spoils the fun.
MILD SPOILERS BELOW
Sarah doesn't seem nearly as free spirited as Rachel, the blond beauty that men fall for at first sight. Her father even implies that she spends a good deal of time at home playing video games. But she still agrees to go to Jerusalem with Kevin just a few hours after meeting him on the plane. It's not something a level-headed adult does these days, especially a young woman, even if she's trying to move on with her life after a tragic loss.
She also seems to fall or injure herself in ways that have nothing to do with advancing the plot. After chasing a pickpocket, she falls down a set of stone stairs and is harassed by a dog. But she didn't lose a passport or learn anything concrete, so why have her fall? I don't get it. And when she and Kevin grab some bicycles to get to the city gate faster, she hits a blockade. Why? They were going slowly over cobblestones; it didn't seem to have any bearing on getting there.
Why have her make strong choices like refusing to leave the endangered city without Kevin, only to have her injure herself? Why have her refuse to leave Rachel's side even after she's injured, only to have her accidentally kill an innocent just minutes later? Why can't she just be a hero?
I suspect it's an attempt to make her ultra-human, that even with our best attempts to survive disaster, we're going to make mistakes, but it doesn't work. Sarah is written as a silly privileged Jersey girl with a heartache. She and Rachel rarely speak of anything but the men they're with and whether they're hooking up with them, and Rachel even leaves Sarah behind when Sarah goes into the asylum to look for Kevin. Grobglas and Jadelyn do good work showing that these young women do care about each other, but if my best friend needed me, I'd never leave her behind. This is the person through whom we experience the entire movie, but she's not someone I'd want to be. I want to see someone I aspire to be rather than the person I already could be.
It's strange to say a movie about demons isn't real enough, but the Paz Brothers went to the trouble to find a real verse to support this fantasy. They did beautiful work tying in multiple religions working together to fight evil rather than each other, both in the start of the film and reflecting it at the end as a bookend to the story. And with such a rich history work, the lack of effort in making these characters as rich or admirable is very noticeable.
JeruZalem is still enjoyable and very watchable but it missed its potential to be much, much more.