‘The Golem’ and ‘The Appearance’ bring religious period horror films back

MARCH 23 — Period horror films are not something you encounter often, especially in this age of streaming where budgets are getting lower and lower. 

As with any kind of period/costume film, costumes and sets will eat up a large part of the film’s budget, if the director harbours any hope of manufacturing period believability. 

Fail to convince with the correct/believable costumes/sets, then the film would have lost the battle already.

One of the main complaints about Mohawk, an excellently brutal low budget period horror flick from last year that got mixed reactions, centred around the cheap-looking costumes the actors were wearing throughout the film, that even got me, a fan of the film, distracted for the first 10 minutes or so. 

Such is the dilemma facing an indie horror film-maker when even thinking of trying to make a period horror flick.

Done right with a decent budget, however, a period horror flick can sink its claws into you like few other types of horror films can. 

Just watch the likes of The Witch, Apostle, The Woman In Black, The Devil’s Backbone or Black Death again and marvel at the visual eye candy of the period costumes and sets and the expert scares and thrills on offer as the main course.

I didn’t expect to ever get the chance to see two low budget period horror films released quite close to each other, but I certainly came across that with the release of The Appearance and then The Golem just a couple of months apart late last year and early this year. 

Both were released to very little fanfare on streaming and VOD platforms and so far I’ve not seen much discussion about them over here in Malaysia, so I guess I should try to correct that and hopefully ‘can lead a few of you horror buffs reading this towards the path of these films and give them a try.

The Golem

Directed by Yoav & Doron Paz, the same team that gave us the under-rated found footage flick JeruZalem a few years back, it’s clear that their interest in Judaism and their application of stories from the Old Testament and the Talmud (abundantly clear in JeruZalem with the presence of Dark Angels and the Nephilim there) is what’s going to make their films unique, whatever horror subgenre they may choose to apply it to. 

With their latest film The Golem, they’ve chosen to play with religious and period horror, which may well remind some viewers of The Witch.

Telling the story of Hanna, a Jewish woman living in a shtetl (Yiddish for small towns/villages with large Jewish populations) in 17th century Lithuania, who’s been secretly studying the Kabbalah (even though women are not permitted to do so, making this also a female empowerment film) and the drastic measures she takes in summoning and raising a Golem in order to protect the shtetl from armed gentile horsemen invading the village, The Golem is an unexpectedly rich horror film, especially considering how it always tries to be more than just your standard stalk, slash and scare horror flick.

The Paz brothers are clearly horror fans, so despite the historical setting, despite the film’s clear status as a female empowerment film, and despite its inescapable allegory about the right (or wrong) ways for the Jewish people to fight for/defend/claim their lands, there are plenty of scares, blood and gore to satisfy even the most basic of horror fans. 

Those looking for a bit more in their horror films, however, will find a lot to ponder about with this one.

The Appearance

Clearly much poorer in terms of budget when compared to The Golem, director Kurt Knight’s new film The Appearance might even be a micro-budget indie, judging from how “small” the movie is in terms of location and casting. 

Taking almost two full hours to tell its story, if you give this little underdog film a bit of patience and weather the first 10 to 15 minutes, I think you’ll be hooked just like I was.

Imagine a cross (no pun intended, even if this one’s also a religious horror flick) between The Name Of The Rose and The Witch, with this movie also about an inquisitor called in to a monastery to investigate matters after a monk is found dead and a young woman is accused of causing it, but done on a much smaller scale and on a much smaller budget, you’ll probably have an idea about how this movie will play and look like.

Making the most of only one location, an impressively old looking castle/fortress that easily passes muster as an old monastery, and impressively committed acting from a bunch of faces I’ve never seen before, The Appearance is a slow-burner that accomplishes what it sets out to do despite of all the hurdles in front of it. 

It’s not a world beater in any sense, but it’s a fine lesson to all budding film-makers out there on how to maximise one’s very meagre resources, even when setting out to make a period costume film.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.