You first get the sense that you’re in trouble with Jeruzalem when the lead character’s New Jersey home is ringed by palm trees.This Israeli film attempting to get in on the found footage and zombie crazes also taps into that most eternal of horror tropes: lazy filmmaking and terrible writing. The palm trees, it turns out, are a highlight of the film.
Rachel and Sarah take a trip to Israel, intending to party it down in Tel Aviv, but they meet a tremendous doofus, Kevin, on their flight, and he takes them to Jerusalem. In a hostel in the Old City they meet Omar, a horny Palestinian, and then they discover that the dead are rising and turning into winged monsters. Sarah, who is wearing Google Glass the whole movie, documents the group’s attempts to flee the walled Old City, which has been shut down by Israeli authorities as monsters keep popping up.
Shooting a movie in the Old City is a killer idea; the millennia-old streets and alleys of the Old City are visually exciting and absolutely new on film. It’s similar to As Above So Below, another not-very-good found footage film elevated by its setting (in that case the Paris Catacombs). As travelogue Jeruzalem is sort of intriguing, but as a horror movie it’s simply the most bog standard crap you could imagine.
The film hits every single cliche along the way, from the partying teens to the warning from an old crazy guy (in this case a guy who thinks he’s the Biblical King David) to painfully obscured found footage during scary action scenes. There’s even a brief detour into an insane asylum for no reason except to make this movie feel more like it has the structure of a video game, I guess.
It’s all such a bummer, as the basic concept is great, even if the writers and directors, the Paz Brothers, don’t even play by their own rules. See, the dead are coming back and when they do they grow wings and are demons or something. They also, in the traditional zombie manner (note the Z in the title) turn you into one of them if they bite or claw you. But there’s also this huge giant walking around in the background, getting shot at by helicopters and jets, and I literally have no idea how that’s even connected. It’s like the movie sort of is about the gates of Hell opening and spitting out demons but is also about zombies and also attempts to find no logical connection between the two, or even address how it works. I know that on paper this incoherence sounds cool, but trust me when I tell you that not only is it not, the giant looks like shit.
The characters are all horrible, especially the girl with the Google Glass, who does stuff like scream epithets at IDF soldiers when they won’t help her comb through a monster-filled asylum to find a guy she met two days earlier. Only Omar, the comic relief, comes across like a full character, thanks to the charm of actor Tom Graziani. The lead girls are irritants, but they have nothing on Kevin, the lead guy. Israeli heartthrob Yon Tumarkin plays the role and he is devastatingly terrible, delivering his lines in a stilted, zoned out way that makes you think he learned them phonetically. There’s not a line he gives that is convincing as human speech. Nobody will really ever see Jeruzalem, but if they did Tumarkin’s performance would become a new touchstone in irony.
There has been some interesting horror coming out of Israel lately - Big Bad Wolves is fantastic, and Rabies (which shares an actress with Jeruzalem) is good - but Jeruzalem feels less like Israeli cinema than a movie intended to be quickly sold on the international market and hit American VOD. Every frame of the movie is painfully cynical, a movie that is ticking off boxes in an attempt to be commercial, especially for non-domestic audiences. I’m sure it’ll work - there’s enough imagery in the film to cut together a compelling trailer, there’s nudity and the title jumps out at you. I just wish this idea - monsters in the Old City of Jerusalem - had come to better filmmakers.