Anyone who covers (or at least obsesses over) the current landscape of international horror cinema should be pleased to notice when a specific country speaks up and bangs out a fresh handful of genre films. Over the years we've seen eruptions like these from Spain, France, Ireland, Japan, and a dozen other nations that don't ordinarily produce a lot of genre films that make a big splash overseas -- and now we can add Israel to that list.
The Israeli genre output began with the very amusing slasher throwback called Rabies, and those filmmakers have an excellent new movie called Big Bad Wolves that's coming out early next year. Plus there's the familiar but well-made Israeli zombie movie called Cannon Fodder and a deviously crafty new psychological thriller called Goldberg & Eisenberg, which feels like it was inspired by Coen brothers neo-noir, Woody Allen misfit rom-com, and maybe just a little dash of Fight Club (in that the two lead characters often feel like opposite sides of the same warped coin.)
Written and directed by confident first-timer Oren Carmi, Goldberg & Eisenberg is a very simple story: Goldberg (Yitzhak Laor) is a lonely nerd who is desperate to land a girlfriend. Eisenberg (Yahav Gal) is an aggressive creep who keeps wedging himself into Goldberg's banal routine. When Goldberg sits at the park and waits for a blind date, there's Eisenberg. At the movies, in a restaurant, on the street (even after he finds a nice girl), Eisenberg is there to mock, cajole, and intimidate Goldberg -- for reasons unknown. Despite the fact that the antagonist has a pair of angry thugs on his side, Goldberg cannot even get the police to help him out.
It's the gradual tightening of the narrative noose that makes Carmi's debut feature such an unexpected treat. The writing is dryly sharp and the actors are all quite strong, but it's the crisp and efficient directorial style that keeps Goldberg & Eisenberg from feeling like a short film that was clumsily stretched to feature length. Many of the exchanges between the title characters have a literate and amusing absurdity, but then the director follows those with something unexpectedly harsh or darkly surprising.
Bolstered by two excellent lead performances (and some fine support from Ronny Dotan as Goldberg's potential girlfriend) and a multi-genre approach that prevents any of the individual components from feeling too familiar, this might not be the most shocking or violent of the recent Israeli genre exports, but it is evidence that those filmmakers are sampling all sorts of scary stories these days, and obviously that's a very good thing.