Jeruzalem (dirs. Doron Paz & Yoav Paz) Israeli horror is a fairly new phenomenon within the genre. The horror film industry there has evolved so quickly, rather than dwelling in actual artistic expression and finding a voice, it has already started to produce mostly soulless found-footage films. JERUZALEM is the story of two young New Jersey women who go on the trip of a lifetime to Israel. Initially they plan on staying in Tel Aviv, but after meeting a cute boy on the plane they scrap those plans and head with him to Jerusalem. Shortly after arriving things start to go badly in the historic city. On Yom Kippur, of all days, there are explosions across the city and the girls must trust these new found friends with their lives. The story has potential to work well, but it never fully develops the themes it introduces. Jewish mysticism and mythology are flirted with, but the filmmakers do not seem to realize that those would be much better sources for horror than the typical cheap jump scares they seem to love. The found footage is through the guise of Google-glass spectacles. This technology is already a dead one, and it should stay that way.
Observance (dir. Joseph Sims-Dennett) Films do not always need to tell the full story. When they give you a small slice the story’s arc, but make it clear that there is a fully formed concept there, it can work even better than wedging in unnecessary exposition. OBSERVANCE does just that. It drops you not at the beginning of the story, but at the beginning of the interesting part of the story. Parker (Lindsay Farris) is down on his luck, trying to save whatever shred is left of his marriage, when he takes an unusual job. He is put up by a faceless employer, in a dilapidated apartment, to spy on the woman across the street. His only order is to observe and record her. Parker obliges as much as he can, but his own personal issues catch up with him as well as some potential outside forces. Though I generally dislike cutesy film comparisons, OBSERVANCE truly is REPULSION meets REAR WINDOW, and I mean that in the most flattering manner possible. The less you know and expect from OBSERVANCE, the better, but absolutely keep an eye out for this film.
Cash Only (dir. Malik Bader) Written by the star of the film, Nickola Shreli, it is startling to learn that CASH ONLY is semi-autobiographical. The main character, Elvis, is a mediocre landlord in Detroit, which reflects some of Shreli’s previous odd jobs, but hopefully the comparisons end there. Elvis is about to lose his apartment buildings to the bank, unless he can gather enough cash to save himself. As he goes from tenant to tenant to collect the money you get to better know Elvis’s world and his bad dealings. At some point the focus of the film shifts away from Elvis’s day-to-day life and becomes about a greater criminal world within Detroit’s Albanian community. The film deftly makes you root for Elvis the entire time even though you are presented with plenty of evidence that he is actually a terrible man. This confusion of loyalty and normalization of violence would be tragic were it not for the film’s quick pace, interesting characters, and superb performances (namely Shreli’s). Never once do the characters in CASH ONLY feel sorry for themselves, and the film never allows the audience to either.
Cherry Tree (dir. David Keating) Is it too much to ask for an Irish witching film to be great? CHERRY TREE starts out with an interesting premise. Faith (Naomi Battrick) wants nothing more than her father to be cured of his now terminal leukemia. Making a deal with the local witch turned field hockey coach, Sissy (Anna Walton), should do the trick, right? All that the witch asks for in exchange is for Faith to become pregnant and to give the child to her. Faith seems on board with the plan, but soon realizes that there is always a catch when dealing with these witchy types. The film’s major downfall is the constant over explanation and reassessment of its own rules. Faith’s pregnancy is a magical one that will only last for six weeks. So why on earth would the script then include the fact that she was kidnapped and put in a coma for three of those weeks? The filmmaker makes the rules of the film, and should not expect the audience to witness what should have been early script revisions. The tone of the film sways from attempts at atmospheric to cheap made-for-TV aesthetics which add to the overall inconsistencies. These, along with limited emotional range from what should be the weighty lead actress make CHERRY TREE a big miss.