Say your prayers Christians, Jews, and Muslims (in your respective religions and languages, of course), for the Holy Land is finally meeting its Rapture. That is what brothers and directors Yoav and Doron Paz (The Paz Brothers) are certainly entertaining, in the very fun and very scary JeruZalem. And those prayers are certainly professed by characters in this film (in those respective religions and languages, of course), but will those prayers be met? Is there salvation on the horizon, or will the Gates of Hell flood the city with pillaging demons and giants? (Spoiler: It’s the latter!)
The premise and structure of this film is familiar. It’s a post Blair Witch, first person take on two girlfriends traveling to Israel in what can only be labeled as a cross between an edifying pilgrimage to the holy land of Jerusalem and a spring break hoorah with drinks, hook-ups, and hangovers. The film is shot through the perspective of Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn), who is wearing a brand new pair of “Smart Glasses” (too expensive to use the Google trademark, I presume) gifted from her father, who Sarah is clearly close to. The “Glass” also adds a new layer to the first-person/found footage genre in that technology and its use of social media provide context for Sarah and us, the viewer. It may seem kitschy at first, but the Glass idea works well as Sarah runs through the streets aided by a navigation map, only to lose her will in at least one scene when the signal fails and her guidance crashes, leaving her physically and emotionally lost.
Sarah is traveling with her friend Rachel (Yael Grobglas), the perkier, more beautiful blonde; a stark contrast with our dark-haired protagonist (a darker shade also symbolizing, as the story will reveal, Sarah’s loss of a loved one). The two see their journey as a spiritual exodus not only because, well…it’s the Holy Land, but their travel is meant to signify their coming-of-age, leaving-their-past-behind metaphor that we find familiar in most plots.
While on the long flight to Tel Aviv, Sarah and Rachel meet Kevin (Yon Tumarkin), a young, spirited student of Christian mythology investigating demonic presences of the past and their implications for the future. He befriends the two women and persuades them to join him in a hideaway hotel in the Old City, owned by Omar (a Muslim) and his father.
The first half of the film offers the usual intrigues of young lovers exploring their sexuality and not ever considering the implications of three religions under the Israeli roof – with a tumultuous history and a current, unsteady political state – cohabitating in the same space. Such is JeruZalem’s subtle political commentary that a current generation within Israel and abroad in the United States are essentially apostates to the conservative facets of their respective religions; dogmas that would not allow the Jewish Rachel to have sex with Omar. (Nor should it matter, and the Paz Brothers do very well at not belaboring any points by simply trying to not make any. All interpretations are left to the audience).
The only obvious political commentary is seen through Omar’s fear and skepticism of two soldiers in the Isreali Defense Forces (IDF), who will later try to help him and the other hotel guests escape from the Old City when, quite literally, all Hell breaks loose.
Other than that, the film is not a means of pontification or overt symbolism as was seen in Brad Pitt’s Jerusalem in World War Z. In that movie, Jerusalem, terrified by years of war and terrorism by its Arab neighbors, successfully erects a wall around its city to defend itself from, all things, zombies. An interesting metaphor, sure, but Paz’s Jerusalem implicates all religions and its followers for the vices and sins inherent in humanity, and the consequences are demonic creatures (who fly!) infecting the living to expose the uglier side of what was thought to be a space where all was holy. And, instead of trying to keep the tormentors out, the people, encompassing all faiths, are essentially quarantined by the IDF, sealing their city (and fate).
Thus we see the moments of desperation, the turn to last resorts, where our heroes say their prayers (in their respective religions and languages, of course) and fight their last fight.