I only ask three things from found footage films.
1) Give a plausible reason why the main character would be recording the events of the film.
2) Allow a plausible explanation for how the footage was recovered.
3) If you MUST include non-diegetic editing and/or music, explain who is manipulating the footage and for what purpose.
These aren’t minor technical quibbles: they are what separates found footage from mere first-person thrillers.
Tragically Doron and Yoav Paz’s new film Jeruzalem fails the last two points miserably, refusing the audience any explanation for how anybody could be seeing the footage or how it’s been so conveniently truncated into a 90 minute format. I call it a tragedy because Jeruzalem could have been an effective, albeit somewhat unoriginal, horror film. Much like Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield (2008), the film is a worm’s-eye view of a city-destroying cataclysm. Seen through the eyes—or more accurately, the Google Glass—of an American tourist named Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn), the audience gets a front-row seat to the fulfillment of a Talmudic prophecy which says that one of the three gates of Hell will open beneath Jerusalem on Yom Kippur. How and why this literal apocalypse starts this one particular Yom Kippur is never mentioned, but that’s the kind of omission I can tacitly accept in this type of film: it’s about the people reacting to the disaster, not the disaster itself.
The first half of the movie plays much like the first half of a slasher film: Sarah and her wilder, more promiscuous friend Rachel (Yael Grobglas) arrive in Jerusalem, take in the local sights, take in the local men—especially one particularly fetching young archeologist from America named Kevin (Yon Tumarkin), and meet an eclectic group of people with just enough character development that their inevitable third act deaths will carry emotional weight but not enough to make us actually care about them. The film’s utilization of Sarah’s Google Glass as recording device serves as its chief gimmick. Periodically throughout the film, Facebook updates, Skype chats, text messages and Wikipedia entries pop up onscreen to provide back-story and character histories, transforming the glasses into a literal expository device. Only one of its applications actually works to heighten suspense: the face recognition technology which automatically pulls up the personal info of anybody whose faces the glasses lock onto. This feature delivers a magnificent payoff late in the film where the glasses try and fail to lock onto and identify unseen faces in a dark cave.
But answer me this: how are the glasses recording anything? The film makes a deliberate big deal out of the voice recognition technology, and we never once hear Sarah say “Glass, record.” Neither does the film explain how one pair of glasses could hold several days worth of video memory. Additionally, we never get any explanation for why the glasses start and stop recording only when things relevant to the plot occur.
I would perhaps be more willing to overlook these discrepancies if the film itself was any good. But after the cliched first half the film devolves into a sickening merry-go-round of shaky cam running, ineffectual jump scares and a bizarre zombie subplot which feels unnecessary considering the literal demons and Nephilim cruising the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem. And while I’m perfectly willing to cut low-budget filmmakers some slack for sub-par special effects, the ones in Jeruzalem are almost comedically terrible. I don’t know which was worse: the PS1-quality giants or the computerized blood spurts that looked like they were added via cheap iPhone apps.