Tuesday, 26 April 2016

'JeruZalem' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the film to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

'JeruZalem' is a found footage horror film set in the city of Jerusalem as the end of the world arrives in the form a zombie apocalypse mixed with religious end of the world imagery. 

Whilst found footage films don't seem to be going anywhere any time soon, are for the most part follow the same standard formula and tropes, 'JeruZalem' does attempt to do something a little different, even if it's execution leaves a little to be desired.

'JeruZalem' follows two American tourists, Rachel and Sarah, who travel to Israel for a holiday.  During their flight the two of them meet an anthropologist named Kevin, who is going to Jerusalem to research perform on doomsday mythology.  Kevin convinces the two girls to alter their travel plans and join him in Jerusalem.

Once they arrive in the city Kevin shows Sarah a video that he found on the dark Internet that shows Vatican footage of a woman who had returned from the dead and transformed into some kind of demonic creature.  Kevin is convinced that Jerusalem holds the secrets that he is looking for, but before he is able to find an explanation the city descends into chaos as the dead begin to rise and demons overrun the city.

The three of them join up with a group of survivors and try to make their escape from the city but come under attack from the demons.  Sarah is injured in the attack and begins to turn into one of the creatures as the infection takes over her body.

Trying to use the mines beneath the city the group is attacked yet again, leaving only Rachel and Kevin left alive.  The two of them manage to find their way out of the mines and emerge into daylight on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  Unfortunately, Rachel had become infected on the way out of the caves and transforms as they reach the outside world.  Rachel flies up into the air as we see Jerusalem burning and a flock of demons ascending into the sky as the film ends.

So, 'JeruZalem' is not a great film, not by any stretch of the imagination, though I have to give it points for trying something different.

The first thing that jumped out to me about the film was the fact that whilst it is a found footage film it doesn't reply on the idea of a character constantly carrying a video camera around with them.  Instead, the film's protagonist, Rachel, gets given a pair of Google Smart Glasses, which is the medium through which the events are recorded through.

Not only is this the first time I can remember a film using this idea, but it also makes a lot more sense from the realms of believability.  Instead of someone who is having to constantly carry around a camera in a life or death situation, it's a piece of wearable technology, something that can either be used to display street maps to help them find their way through the chaos, or something that can easily be forgotten is being worn.  

It immediately makes the film stand out as something different, something a little more believable and something that I would do, over running around with a camera during the apocalypse.  It also makes things feel a little more natural because you're not having to have people introduce themselves to the camera or explain who they are as normally happens in these kinds of films.  Instead, the Smart Glasses uses facial recognition to bring up people's Internet profiles and displays their names, getting to avoid what has become a fairly clunky trope of the genre.

The film uses the location to good effect too, making the most of the ancient and historical surroundings to make the film stand out against most other found footage films that are either set in abandoned buildings or western city streets.

Having actually been filmed in Jerusalem, the film instantly has a look and feel to it that gives it a sense of weight that sets would fail to bring; and authenticity that other places made to look like the middle east would lack.  It reminds me of another found footage horror film, 'As Above So Below', which was filmed in the Paris Catacombs and as such has something to it that gives it a feel all to itself.

Because the first half of the film is spent just following the characters around the city we get a real sense that this is a real place, full of real people, with many of the people in the backgrounds being actual citizens of the city and other visitors.  It gives a level of scope that you don't normally get from these kinds of films.

Sadly the film begins to fall into a number of traps as it begins to actually turn into a horror film and the zombie demons begin to attack.  Whilst the film tried to do a number of things different from other examples of this particular genre and style it soon starts to retread the same tired tropes that have been done again and again.

Rachel goes into an old mental asylum alone to rescue Kevin at one point in what has to be the worst part of the film.  She makes her way through an environment we've all seen so many times before, finds a locked door, has to try to find a key in an office, has to hide from the creature that suddenly appears.  It's dull and it slows the film down, and frankly its not even needed.  The film could have done away with the idea of Kevin being locked up and the film wouldn't have lost a single thing, if anything it would have actually flowed a lot better.

The last section of the film ends up not feeling too different from many other films in this genre, despite going a long way to try and make something that could have been different.  We never get any answers as to what is actually happening in Jerusalem beyond some theories given over by Kevin and the opening credits that are intermixed with narrated footage of the 70's Vatican footage (possibly one of the better parts of the film).

By the time the film ends it's not clear if the events have been caused by some kind of virus, which is hinted at through people changing after being bitten, or if it is somehow connected to an actual religious apocalypse, as is suggested by winged demons walking the street and Rachel's long dead brother appearing to her.  Whilst some might enjoy the idea of not knowing for sure and getting to make their own decision this is one time I've got to say that I'd rather have been given some firm answers as to what is actually happening.  Especially as in one scene we briefly see a giant Godzilla sized demon walking over the streets of the city.

As the film concluded I was left feeling a little underwhelmed by what I had seen, mainly because I recognised the seed of a very good idea hidden under the terrible mistakes that were made in the closing acts.  This could have been something interesting, it could have built a solid and unique mythology for itself, instead it's become a film that I'm sure many people will never see, and those that do will probably forget in short succession.

'JeruZalem' could have been a unique edition to the found footage horror genre, but fails by falling into using too many tropes and cliche choices, as well as not seeming to know what to do with it's own story.  A good effort, but one that manages to fall short at the end.


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