From the First Moment it is Clear: “The Malevolent Bride” is Not Just Another Series About the Ultra-Orthodox
Roie Even, Mako
If all the stars align, it is not improbable that the two most stressful words in the near future will be “oxen oxen”. Because despite Israelis’ distaste for a series that is more complex than usual, certainly when it comes to an unprecedented experiment of a Hasidic supernatural horror thriller, “The Malevolent Bride” by Kan 11 has several crucial elements: a good pace, a compelling story, and excellent actors. And when the trans actress Lioz Levi enters the scene, there is also a chance for a historic move.
“The Malevolent Bride”, the new drama series by Kan 11, starts out like any other cliché series about Ultra-Orthodox Jews: a tailored and monotonous wedding scene, one in which it is not yet clear who is the groom and who is the bride, and what they want from us – except to make it clear that this is a slightly different ceremony than the mainstream wedding. But this is more or less the point where the series stops being “yet another”. A few moments later the wedding dress is filled with blood, and further on they start talking about some kind of evil spirit that gives the series its name (In Hebrew – “A Demon Angel”), and what mistakenly seems in the first minute to be a standard Hasidic series turns out to be a “blue and white” (Israeli) horror thriller. It is original and brave, because you never know which Israelis will go along with a supernatural series in prime time, which is a cause for concern. If the war drama “Carthago” clearly did not get off the ground, what are the chances that the experimental “The Malevolent Bride” will not throw away more huge sums of money to no avail.
While the average Israeli viewers do not care who created a series, as long as it is not Adir Miller or Lior Raz, their TV critic will understand that this is a good way to know the true potential of the series. “The Malevolent Bride” was created by Noah Stollman, who previously worked on “Fauda” and “Our Boys”, Avigail Ben-Dor Niv and the director Oded Davidoff (“Someone to Run With” and “Pillars of Smoke”, which Stollman also worked on). It’s a lineup you can trust, although it’s clear where the series is really headed: not here (Israel). Studio Anani’s collaboration with the international company A+E, and the stylish production that undoubtedly received a fat budget, make it clear that the real home of “The Malevolent Bride” is not the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation but some reputable streaming service to which it will be sold. Israelis can continue to shy away from genre titles, especially horror, since they are only a marginal part of the target audience.
The story takes place in Jerusalem, shifting between the Hebrew University and the Ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood on two intersecting axes: Baer (Tom Avni), formerly Dov-Baer, is a totally secular physicist who became secular after growing up in the made-up “Brody” Hasidic sect; Melki (Lioz Levi) is an Ultra-Orthodox psychologist who treats the mental struggles of people in the community that are hospitalized in an institution called “Ezrat Nashim”. A succession of mysterious events and disasters from the past and present – starting with the bleeding bride from the first minutes of the premiere episode – sends the two, if somewhat reluctantly, on a hunt to find the evil spirit, the demon-angel or whatever you want to call it. They do it, not necessarily out of curiosity, but also out of an understanding that this is somehow related to them. They investigate the demon together but at the same time suspect each other, trying to find a common language between the Ultra-Orthodox doctor and the guy who defines the Hasidic sect in which he grew up as “a cult of brainwashed people”.
The cast of “The Malevolent Bride” is quite broad, according to the cliché “A secularist, an Ultra-Orthodox and an Arab enter a Kan series”. There is Hisham Suliman from “Fauda” and Lir Katz from “Dismissed”, Dar Zuzovsky and Esti Zakheim, Diana Golbi and Maya Wertheimer – a better actress than she is usually considered, and who is completely wasted here. Although there’s no reason why someone like Wertheimer, who plays Baer’s doctor wife, shouldn’t play a respected doctor, it’s clear that the creation of her character was limited to glasses, a stethoscope and not much more. Apart from the fact that Wertheimer is under-utilized in this project, it is hard to miss how the atmosphere of the Israeli neighborhood vibe also finds its way into an invested and budgeted series that justifiably fantasizes about an international career.
But all these, as well as Avni who is maturing superbly, are secondary compared to the highlight which is Lioz Levi – an Ultra-Orthodox character played by a trans actress. As of the first episodes of “The Malevolent Bride” (all eight were uploaded to the Kan BOX app, for those who are curious) there is no reference to this fact beyond a general atmosphere of mystery surrounding Malki’s character, and from the point of view of the creators it is a Win-Win. If Levi’s gender identity is integrated into her character down the road, it will be a twist that will only enrich the plot and elevate it to new heights. If, when all the cards are revealed, it still turns out to be a biologically female character, that would be an extraordinary statement by the Broadcast Corporation and a scripting decision of enormous importance for the future. Either way, it doesn’t matter: Malki, the voice of reason in the investigation, is already the most fascinating and compelling character of the series, and for the mesmerizing Levi (who previously played in “Magpie”) this is an extraordinary springboard that can and should guarantee her a long future in the industry.
When at the same time, “In the Name of the Father”, a documentary series about a religious community with equally dark and disturbing secrets, is being aired here, it is quite clear that local viewers would rather see things like that, than be swept away by the experiment of “The Malevolent Bride”. The desire to break through Israeli glass ceilings does not always go hand in hand with the need to provide good numbers, certainly when naturally you must be fans of the genre to stick with it. There is no doubt that this is a real horror thriller, although instead of real scares it has a Yiddish “Oxen Oxen” song that is whispered at key chilling moments, and as such, it also has several moments which are on the verge of being ridiculous, with touches of Camp, that will receive less praise overseas and more parodic homages on Tiktok . But it is impossible to take away from “The Malevolent Bride” the sincere intentions to break boundaries, the admirable ability to realize them, and especially the fast and successful pace. Pacing is one of those things that you don’t realize how important it is until a series comes along that knows how to do it right, and here it is an element that may prove to be decisive – and for the better. Who knew that a Hasidic horror thriller is the thing we lack the most on television.