Basking in originality and captivated by its own cinematic aims, JeruZalem may be the worst film of 2016. Like their narrative counterparts, writer/director duo Daron and Yoav Paz suffer from having far more money than sense. Seemingly obsessed with “making something the kids will like,” the Paz brothers’ script reads more like a transcript from a table of middle school boys who assume the adjacent table of giggling girls are intently eavesdropping. While the first-person camera (and in this case, from a truly POV angle) is respectably non-intrusive, the film’s constant tripping over itself provides enough of a dizzying sensation for fans of the gimmick to become equally queasy.
A pair of mansion-dwelling twenty-somethings are going on a trip to Israel — but a Birthright trip this certainly isn’t. The sublimely wealthy Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) mourns the loss of her brother (a creepy candle-lit and tissue-littered shrine to his life is set up in the basement), but this sadness is no match for the excitement of Tel Aviv and a brand new pair of smart (Google) glasses, gifted in the opening scenes by her own Daddy Warbucks (the awkwardly-intrusive Howard Rypp). Rachel (Yael Grobglas), the sleazy counterpoint to Sarah’s nerd-girl caricature, is equally-well off, but with absent parents and papa’s credit card, she’s ready to have fun and forget all about the boyfriend she (and the film) kisses goodbye on the way to LAX. While boarding the plane, the girls meet Kevin aka Indiana Jones (Yon Tumarkin doing his best American accent), who convinces them that war-torn Jerusalem during Yom Kippur is way more fun and culturally-insightful than the beaches and clubs of Tel Aviv. This, as the “Z” in the titular JeruZalem, might suggest, turns out to be a bit of a bad call.
As the first film that I have seen to use a Google Glass-type interface as a means of capturing video, JeruZalem shows the medium’s undeniable promise. Expositional shortcuts through Facebook-linked facial recognition and the heads-up-displayed interplay between woman and technology are unlike anything we have seen before (in a move of pure comedic prowess, Sarah’s dad has a Myspace page). Our increasing reliance on interaction with technology has been a major hurdle for filmmakers when deciding how best to capture this interplay, but the Paz Brothers may have had a genuine breakthrough.
Innovation, however, can often be a double-edged sword. Using their newfound toy for evil rather than good, the Paz brothers slip into schoolboy jokes about sex and impotent observations on life — exceedingly so when a steamy bedroom scene between Sarah and Indiana (sorry for the spoilers) is viewed from the removed glasses. This somewhat ham-handed pander to the tits ‘n ass crowd becomes an eye-rolling detour into madness when the glasses start receiving texts from Daddy. Eschewing the formalities of expositional introduction, the smart glasses leave so much unsaid that the characters resort to asinine dialogue that reads like a computer guessing its way through normal human speech. Like something completely lost in translation, JeruZalem is more Troll 2 than Cloverfield and contains all the ironic hallmarks of a future cult phenomenon. Haphazardly stabbing at its version of political commentary, the film tries desperately to be edgy by depicting tolerance in a land so full of hatred. By the time any monsters actually show up, every bit of magic created from the increasingly bizarre and sardonic characters is instantly destroyed along with a great deal of the world’s most holy city.
An ambling tour of Israel’s capital, JeruZalem fumbles along as its selfish characters lose focus on the plotlines they once seemed so interested in, and the film begins to crumble like its focal city. Although it may offer some uproarious midnight-madness events in the future, for now, Jeruzalem is little more than a The Room reincarnation waiting to be discovered by kids who are currently better at using smartphones than they are at using the potty.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.