The Golem is the latest telling of the Jewish legend of a mystical creature molded from clay and brought to life via a religious ritual to defend the oppressed. Earlier film versions stretch back more than 100 years, with Paul Wegener’s 1920 The Golem: How He Came Into the World the best remembered.
Set in a Jewish village in Lithuania in 1673, The Golem centers on Hanna (Hani Furstenberg), a young wife whose solemn demeanor is the result of her son’s tragic death some years before. The only thing that ignites her passion for life is the study of the holy texts. Her husband Benjamin (Ishai Golan) grudgingly allows her to indulge this passion in secret, even though it is forbidden by the village elders.
But when Benjamin discovers that Hanna has been secretly terminating her pregnancies with an elixir given to her by the village healer, Perla (Brynie Furstenberg), he leaves their home in fury, leaving his wife truly alone.
Meanwhile, a plague is sweeping through the land, and the village is invaded by an angry horde led by Vladimir (Alex Tritenko). Cradling his critically ill daughter in his arms, Vladimir blames the Jews for the plague because their village has remained untouched while surrounding communities have suffered. He threatens to kill everyone and burn the village down, but Perla steps forward and offers to treat his daughter in exchange for their lives.
The truce doesn’t hold for long, however. People on both sides are killed, and hostility reaches a boiling point. Hanna realizes that the only thing she can do to save her village is to create a golem, which she has learned about from her study. She spends the night performing the ritual and, in the morning, she is confronted by a mud-covered creature (Konstantin Anikienko) who is nothing more than a mere child. Since the boy appears to be about the same age as her late son, she finds herself bonding with him in spite of herself.
Soon enough, the golem has a confrontation with Vladimir’s minions and demonstrates a fearsome power to slay without mercy. Unfortunately, he has also become attached to Hanna, and he starts killing anyone who threatens her – even fellow villagers. Hanna realizes that the boy must be destroyed.
Though The Golem is classified as a horror film, it definitely leans more toward the arthouse crowd, with its leisurely pace and themes that are more expansive than mere bloodletting (although there’s a fair amount of that). It addresses such heady themes as religious persecution, the power of faith, and the woman’s role in society.
Directed by Doron and Yoav Paz and written by Ariel Cohen, the film is drenched with atmosphere. It’s gorgeously shot by Rotam Yoran and has an appropriately rich score composed by Tal Yardeni. With its striking production design by Sasha Drobot, it has an authentic period feel that makes the most of its budget.
The Golem opens in limited release on Feb. 1 and will be available on VOD, DVD and Blu-Ray Feb. 5.