The Movie Waffler New to VOD - A HOUSE IN JERUSALEM | The Movie Waffler


A young British girl relocates with her father to Jerusalem, where she befriends a Palestinian girl only she can see.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Muayad Alayan

Starring: Johnny Harris, Miley Locke, Sheherazade Farrell, Souad Faress, Rebecca Calder

A House in Jerusalem poster

How much do you miss your imaginary friends? As a desperately lonely but happy minded little boy I was a prime patsy for such figments of fancy. Here's the strange thing, though: my imaginary friends were specifically associated with certain locations, and never followed me beyond those places. For example, one friend, Snooky, would only hang out with me at my Grandmother's and nowhere else. To the extent that visiting my dear old nan, who was the live-in matron of a retirement home, became more than anything an opportunity to hang out with Snooky and hear the strange things she would tell me of my life and what was about to occur in it: predictions which I couldn't have guessed at, but which always came true (a teacher committing suicide, a cousin getting pregnant - no cap, on God, etc). Until one day I stopped believing and Snooky disappeared. 27 years old, I was... Forgive the whimsy, but it's been an emotional week, and perhaps this is why Muayad Alayan's (with screenplay credits shared with Rami Musa Alayan) A House in Jerusalem, with its rosewater focus on childhood imagination and sentiment, hit so hard.

A House in Jerusalem review

Rebecca (Miley Locke) is an adolescent Jewish girl mired in grief. Following the death of her mother in a car accident, Rebecca's erstwhile father Michael (a soulful and none more dad-like Johnny Harris) inherits the exceptionally enviable titular abode which the pair subsequently move to from their native England. Compounding the alienation which Rebecca is already undergoing, the property seems to be haunted by the spirit of a Palestinian child named Rasha (Sheherazade Farrell). Whereas most adults would full on shit themselves at the prospect of a supernatural entity, as ever, Rebecca, a little girl, is made of stronger stuff. Following an initial trepidation, Rebecca treats the spirit with the sort of care and respect and curiosity which was sorely absent in her apparently curtailed existence.

A House in Jerusalem review

Rasha manifests in association with water and has a doll which floats, Ophelia like, upon dark currents. The juxtaposition of spooky figurines with glass glaring eyes, cold water and spectral girls has become an instinctive trope yet A House in Jerusalem manages to use these genre markers in ways that are freshly creepy: Rasha "lives" in the well, which is (hazardously) placed smack within the scrubland yard of the palatial home. There is a feeling of restriction associated with Rasha which contrasts the empty dimensions of Rebecca's new home, with its unfamiliar space and strange ingresses. Alayan orchestrates the hauntings within with delicacy - a particularly unsettling moment involves Rebecca looking up at the house and curtains being violently shut by hands unknown and unseen, a weird twist upon an everyday motion.

A House in Jerusalem review

As you've probably guessed, there is a metaphor at work here within this microcosmic Jerusalem domicile which used to be owned by one family and is now the settling place of a completely different group of people (counting Dad's new squeeze, an unwelcome indication of time cruelly moving on for Rebecca). Yet, A House in Jerusalem is never didactic in its ideology. The two girls are heartbreakingly affected by a conflict beyond their understanding and influence, united in their desperate grief over missing mothers. What it reminded me most of is the archaic folksy horror which used to be broadcast on British children's telly and is now the stuff of prized DVDs or obscure YouTube dives: gems like Children of the Stones, Chocky, Dramarama (in particular the spooky The Exorcism of Amy). The pacing has that same gently unfolding feel, and the child protagonists are not only the conduit for scares but also derring agents of dramatic change. In the film's final scenes, the mind-bending implications of what the hauntings actually constitute has the same surprising and devastating malice of those bygone shows, too. A House in Jerusalem lingers in the imagination.

A House in Jerusalem is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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