February 17, 2019

A Truly Jewish Kind of Horror

“Oddly, though, the golem plot itself isn’t all that scary, but what is very frightening is the sense the movie brings of the terror of being a Jew in a shtetl hundreds of years ago – nothing could be scarier than that.

The most famous story of the golem – that it was a creature created from earth by a rabbi in 16th-century Prague – was told in a famous 1920 film and is referenced in a prologue here.

The story then moves to the Lithuanian countryside, where Jews are being targeted by the gentile population, who blame them for a plague. The Jewish community’s rabbi instructs everyone to try to lay low.

But one rebellious young woman, Hanna (Hani Furstenberg), feels they should try to fight back. She breaks conventions in a number of other ways, mostly by her devotion to learning Kabbalah, which she does in secret. Her husband, Benjamin (Ishai Golan), stays with her, although their one son died and she hasn’t had any others. What he doesn’t know is that she is going to the shtetl’s healer (Brynie Furstenberg) and receiving some kind of elixir that prevents her from getting pregnant — she is afraid of having another child and then losing it.

After a brutal attack by the local thugs that disrupts her sister’s wedding and leaves one man dead, Hanna pleads with the rabbi to use Kabbalah secrets to create a golem to defend them. He won’t listen, so she does it herself.

As in so many horror films, the creepiest part is when you know the monster is loose but you don’t see it. When he finally surfaces, he is a cute-looking kid, the same age as the son Hanna lost. But, like the zombies in Jeruzalem, when he is ticked off, his pupils become completely dilated and with just a nasty look or two, he wreaks havoc on anyone who threatens or upsets Hanna. She nurtures him in a maternal way, in a kind of Rosemary’s Baby subplot.”

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