Warning: This review contains one spoiler.
I am fascinated by portals and gateways to other dimensions, so I was looking forward to seeing Jeruzalem. My enthusiasm for the movie turned out to be short-lived.
According to a Talmud passage quoted in the movie, the ancient city of Jerusalem is the site of one of three gates to hell.
Jeruzalem opens with intriguing found footage of a woman who supposedly died and then came back to life a few days later during the time that the gate to hell was open. As a zombie, she is possessed by evil so strong that a combination of Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim clergy could not exorcise it from her. A priest eventually shoots her because they could not save her, and the world becomes quiet once more.
From Hell to Travelogue of Israel . . .
It surprised me that after the suspense created by the found footage, the movie shifted direction and became more like a trendy travel reality show than a horror movie. As the viewers wait for the gate to hell to reopen again, they have to sit through touristy footage of two young American women named Sarah (played by Danielle Jadelyn) and her best friend Rachel (played by Yael Grobglas) as they party and sightsee in Jerusalem. Even though apocalyptic doom awaits them, they have time to find new lovers. Sarah falls for Kevin (played by Yon Tumarkin), an anthropology student that she and Rachel meet on the plane, while Rachel pairs up with Omar (played by Tom Graziani), a young man who helps to run the hostel where Sarah, Rachel, and Kevin are staying at.
. . . And Back Again
On a positive note, directors Yoav Paz and Doron Paz do a good job of redirecting the movie’s focus back to horror through warnings from Kevin and a strange man named David (played by Itzko Yampolski). Kevin even shows Sarah the found footage presented earlier in the film. Although the warnings are not particularly convincing because both Kevin and David are dismissed as crazy, they are unsettling. The mood of the movie becomes more somber after Kevin is taken away from the hostel and temporarily locked up in an insane asylum.
Underwhelmed by Jeruzalem’s Underworld
Unfortunately, when all hell finally breaks loose, so does the quality of the rest of the movie. The ideas about Judgment Day and atonement for sins brought up earlier in the movie are abandoned for cheap and ineffective thrills. Watching the main characters try to escape from Jerusalem through caves underneath the city makes you feel like you are stuck in a boring haunted house attraction or video game. The scares seem artificial. The darkness is broken by dim views of the main characters illuminated by the light of hardhat lamps and quick flashes of zombies.
And there were other problems that undermined the horror of Jeruzalem’s underworld.
Smart Glasses Dumb Down the Movie
At one point inside the caves, Sarah cries out in despair that “I’m playing a video game!” and bemoans how everything seems like a video game. For me, the visual interface of her Smart Glasses further added to the fake “gamey” quality of the second half of the movie.
Speaking of Smart Glasses, I disliked that most of the film was shot from the from the perspective of Sarah wearing them. The Smart Glasses allowed for some moments of irony but were largely a distraction. The facial recognition feature of the Smart Glasses constantly trying to identify everyone in its path was somewhat creepy, and it was sort of sad to see how dependent Sarah was on the glasses to communicate and interact with the world. I also thought that the Smart Glass POV somewhat dehumanized Sarah. She was often a disembodied voice. Even though I could hear her talking, it was annoying not to see her facial expressions and most of her movements throughout most of the film.
In terms of plot development, the movie becomes confusing in its second half because of its mixed up monster mythology. Because of the z in Jeruzalem, I got the impression that this movie is supposed to be about zombies. However, the zombies in this film look more like demons, especially after they sprout wings, and most of them do not behave like either zombies or demons.
In a departure from traditional notions of zombies established by George Romero and other filmmakers, some of the zombies in Jeruzalem remember their lives and loved ones. One of them is Rachel. After she transforms into a zombie, she does not try to eat Sarah, even though Sarah has fallen unconscious and would have been an easy meal. When Sarah awakens, Rachel even tells her friend, “Run now.” Rachel is also aware of what she has become and decides to commit suicide by shooting herself with a machine gun from one of the Israeli soldiers who came with them.
Besides being too self-aware to be zombies, most of these winged undead creatures don’t seem evil enough to be demons. Only a few of them attack and kill people. The rest of them fly up into the sky where they are easy targets for Israeli military aircraft. Are they conscious of what they have become and want to die like Rachel? Suicidal undead creatures are not scary.
I am disappointed that Jeruzalem did not live up to its potential to be a good horror movie. It has an interesting opening and characters with an admirable sense of loyalty to one another, but the story falls apart when the actual horror arrives. There is some zombie bloodletting and gore but probably not enough to satisfy hardcore zombie movie fans.