It’s easy to whine and moan about the overabundance of Found Footage horror movies. Yes, the conceit is overplayed and requires a certain checklist of conventions that can be frustrating to trudge through. However, when a filmmaker does something interesting with the format, it can still be a hell of a lot of fun. Take ‘Jeruzalem’, for example. The Israeli POV apocalypse flick is quite well made and has some great stuff amidst the necessary clichés.
The movie follows two friends on a trip to Jerusalem. Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) is the bookish protagonist, still getting over the death of her brother and operating as the eyes for the audience since her father bought her a Google Glass headset for the big trip. Rachel (Yael Grobglas) is the party girl determined to make sure they have way too much fun no matter what. If that means skipping their initial destination of Tel Aviv to follow a hunky archaeologist (Yon Tumarkin) they met on the plane to Jerusalem because her uptight buddy has a crush, then so be it!
Many scenes of flirting and partying follow, with stabs at humor hitting and missing at a decent rate. Of course, with this being a horror flick, things kick off with vintage documentary footage of an exorcism. The fact that this wacky holiday takes place in the city that should be ground zero for the Biblical apocalypse slowly turns out to be a real buzzkill. Possessions, demon attacks and even a few ground-level sightings of hulking demonic giants follow. It gets messy, but in a delightful way for those who signed up for a horror flick rather than a travelogue.
The writing/directing team credited as the Paz Brothers (Doron Paz and Yoav Paz) win big points for their choice of location. Jerusalem is a beautiful city filled with ancient architecture, creepy cobblestone alleyways, underground tunnels, religious temples, and plenty of other evocative locales to stage a scare scene. They milk them all. They also introduce a few characters to hint at the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and gently toy with holy war paranoia during the confusion once the apocalypse starts. This isn’t an overtly political horror movie even though it could have been, but that backdrop adds to the texture of the piece. As is the way in most low-budget genre efforts, it takes quite a while for the actual monster mash to get going following the cold open and patience will be tested. Thankfully, that patience is rewarded when the movie gets to the good stuff.
The POV Google Glass conceit actually works rather well. The Paz brothers have fun playing with facial recognition software, social media, MP3 soundtracks and other sight gags afforded by the technology. It never overwhelms things or becomes overly irritating, mostly just laying on additional storytelling and jokes in amusing ways. The headset also allows them to get over the “Why is this movie still being recorded?” dilemma all Found Footage flicks must tediously answer. Once Sarah’s eyeglasses are stolen from her backpack shortly into the trip, she’s forced to rely on the Google Glass. Clever stuff (well, maybe not the meta “Fatale Error” warnings that are a little too on-the-nose).
The POV style also works well once all hell breaks loose. There’s no such thing as a small-scale apocalypse even though that’s all a low-budget genre effort can afford. However, by sticking with side characters running around on the ground as the gates of Hell open around them, the filmmakers can focus their effects budget on offhand shots of grander action and small-scale claustrophobic demon attacks. The monster designs are good, the jump scares and gore gags are effective, and the excellent location work adds instant production value and atmosphere.
Now, with this being a low-budget horror film by fairly inexperienced filmmakers and actors, there are obviously concessions to be made. Performances tend to be a mixed bag (sometimes due to obvious language barriers as well as actors lacking talent). The back-ended horror assault also means that the first hour is mostly composed travelogue beauty shots and dead end subplots killing time before we get to the good stuff. (The plot about Sarah’s dead brother is a particularly irritating timewaster since it never pays off like it should during the supernatural showdown.) And despite the location being fresh, the Paz brothers are still sitting on the backs of other more original genre efforts to get their scares. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ obviously hangs over the proceedings, but more importantly the folks behind underrated POV horror influences like ‘[Rec] 2’, ‘Afflicted’, and ‘As Above, So Below’ deserve some royalties if ‘Jeruzalem’ becomes a hit.
That said, criticizing a decent horror flick for cannibalizing genre efforts of the past feels like a waste of time. That’s how genre movies work. If you only accept horror movies that are wholly original, then you aren’t going to watch many horror movies at all. The bottom line is that the Paz brothers have created a damn amusing little horror romp here, despite its genre copying and limitations. When the movie is operating in high gear during the final act, some impressive scares and filmmaking feats hit the screen – especially the final, genuinely haunting shot. Provided that you don’t suffer from POV motion sickness and haven’t grown tired of the genre, ‘Jeruzalem’ works far more often than it drags. It also establishes the Paz brothers as pretty talented genre filmmakers who will hopefully get the chance to show off their skills with larger resources next time.