Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"A gorgeous palimpsest of a film."

According to the Book of Jonah, there are three gates to Hell. One is in the desert. One is in the ocean. The third is in Jerusalem.

This we are told in the opening titles of a film that is all about the collision of the ancient and the modern. Archaic prophecy meets mobile internet; cultural feuds meet casual sex; tourist money meets desperate poverty. On the surface its story is slight - demonic horrors are unleashed and people run around trying to survive - but there's much more going on in a film which amply deserves the awards it has received.

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Jeruzalem is found footage horror, but with an interesting twist - it's all filmed from the perspective of Google Glass. This creates a very modern space in which visual information is layered across the screen. Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn), the principal wearer of the instrument, makes Skype calls through it, checks Facebook, does internet research, views maps and accidentally plays music, all whilst there is action going on around her. This may put off older viewers but it's remarkably smoothly done so it never becomes intrusive. Importantly, little of it is essential to following the plot, but you might want to watch several times to catch everything.

In parallel to this visual layering is a layering of languages. Our heroine and her best friend Rachel (Yael Grobglas) are Americans visiting the city, so the principal language of the film is English. Other characters, however, speak Hebrew or Arabic, which is translated only occasionally (by the characters themselves). This means that viewers familiar with different languages will have significantly different experiences of the film. Much of the fear within the story is generated from the young women's sense of isolation and culture shock, with bad situations made worse by their inability to understand what others are saying, but the other characters have their own distinct concerns voiced in their own languages, and different sets of fears. It's a gorgeous palimpsest of a film.

Like most intelligent horror, Jeruzalem avoids getting too grim too early. There's a long period spent getting to know the characters and exploring the city with them, which is thoroughly enjoyable in itself. All the characters are well rounded and by the time we have a group of people in peril, we care about all of them. The film deftly handles the tensions between Arab hoteliers and Jewish soldiers without spilling over into cliché, such that the city's troubled history functions as a foundational element of the story without miring it in predictable bickering. The two female leads are particularly strong (aided by well written roles), but there are no weak performances here.

The other really impressive thing about the film is the Paz brothers' direction. First person perspective films are usually pretty awful, but they really make this work, capturing motion in a way that makes it easy to imagine oneself (literally) in Sarah's shoes. This contributes to a sense of empathy which becomes particularly important in the final scene.

Atmospheric throughout, Jeruzalem nevertheless has a dark sense of humour which enlivens its bleakest moments. This, along with effective use of bathos, helps to sustain its pace and keep viewers invested in it. The horror trappings themselves are not particularly original but then again, perhaps they shouldn't be, and ultimately this feels like a detail in a film which is focused on its characters. Jerusalem itself comes close to being a character as the Paz brothers invite us to get to know it and to discover its inexorable alienness at the same time. As one of Sarah's new friends breaks down with Jerusalem syndrome, a condition whose validity is fiercely contested, there's a suggestion that what is real might be less important than what we believe.

Reviewed on: 06 Jan 2016
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Jeruzalem packshot
Three Americans visiting Jerusalem are caught up in the Day of Judgement.

Director: Doron Paz, Yoav Paz

Writer: Doron Paz, Yoav Paz

Starring: Yael Grobglas, Danielle Jadelyn, Tom Graziani, Yon Tumarkin, Itsko Yampulski, Yoav Koresh

Year: 2015

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Israel


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