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Fantasia 2015 Review: Jeruzalem Unleashes Monsters of Biblical Proportions

By  · Published on July 26th, 2015


Fantasia International Film Festival 2015 runs 7/14–8/4. Follow our coverage here.

Legend tells us that there are three gates to hell – one is in the desert, one is in the ocean, and the last is in the holy city of Jerusalem. So book your flights now, and bring the whole family to check out this hopping tourist destination before it’s too late! (I may be paraphrasing the film’s opening narration a bit.)

Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) and Rachel (Yael Grobglas) are American best friends on a trip to Tel Aviv for some fun in the sun, but a chance meeting with a young archaeologist named Kevin (Yon Tumarkin) detours them to Jerusalem for the Yom Kippur celebration. The city is bustling with the faithful, and the trio hit the town with new friends in tow visiting churches, clubs and the Wailing Wall, but the celebration is cut short when that previously mentioned gate to hell opens and demonic/angelic winged creatures begin violently harvesting souls and turning prey into monsters. As the religiously-themed infection spreads those affected sprout their own wings, and soon creatures outnumber the humans as the end days approach.

The biggest element that the new Israeli horror film Jeruzalem gets right is its choice of locale – Jerusalem is a city filled with such immense and detailed culture and history that it can’t help but add a rich atmosphere to a tale steeped in the literature of the Bible. Directors/writers Doron Paz and Yoav Paz take full advantage of the city’s architecture and alleyways moving from beautiful and dense wide shots to claustrophobic confines with ease. Its historically diverse nature is present in the characters too as our main trio is joined by a young Arab man and a pair of Jewish soldiers, and while they never settle in for a thorough discussion on the area’s conflict an attempt is made to take jabs at all sides and include each faction in the unfurling plot.

Unfortunately the rest of the film can’t quite match the strong setting. Did I mention it’s a found footage film? Well, it’s mostly one – a brief intro shows an old video and includes narration from an unknown speaker, but once that ends we shift permanently into the POV of Sarah’s Google Glass headset. No one ever says “Google,” but the inference is clear as they control the accessory with the “Glass” commands. It’s a smarter way to tackle the format than having someone inexplicably lug a camera around, but even here it’s made repeatedly clear that none of this is actually being filmed from the POV of a person’s head. It’s distracting but less so than typical found footage films, and it does allow for some humorous moments involving the headset’s attempts at face recognition and media access.

While the humor works the horror seldom does thanks in part to the format but also to its unremarkable and lazy attempts at generating scares. Jump scares are visible from miles away. There are moments of awe to be found though thanks to the design and appearances of the winged creatures as well as a too-brief glimpse of something bigger, but since Sarah – essentially our camera – continually chooses to look away from the interesting stuff and stare at her friends instead you can’t help but feel short-changed as to the scale and wonder of what’s transpiring here. One creature in particular is seen briefly before the gang continues on their way, and what should have been a pants-shitting experience for them instead feels like they just passed a bagel shop.

The performances are mostly fine with Grobglas in particular standing out as both natural and talented, but you have to wonder why Tumarkin was saddled with playing a supposed American. His attempts at hiding his accent are more visible than the film’s monsters and far more terrifying. It results in a remarkably poor performance of both delivery and emoting, and you can’t help but wish the poor guy was just allowed to be play a local archaeologist instead.

There’s a definite fun factor to Jeruzalem that helps make it just entertaining enough – it’s slick-looking, the creatures are cool and the core story involving leaders of the three major religions teases something bigger than we get – and it definitely marks the Paz brothers as talents to watch. Here’s hoping their eventual New Testament-inspired zombie film ditches the found footage and resurrects real horror.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2015 runs 7/14–8/4. Follow our coverage here.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.