There are two surprises in Doron Eran's romantic potboiler God's Sandbox, though one of them is barely a surprise at all. The film revolves around a tale that Bedouin bohemian Sami Samir tells his lover Orli Perl and Perl's aged mother Razia Israeli, concerning a nearly 40-year-old love story between Jewish hippie Meital Dohan and another Bedouin, Juliano Mer. Israeli has come to Perl's beachside encampment to drag her home, but she becomes entranced by Samir's story, which strikes her as oddly familiar. It's not too hard to figure out why.
The second surprise is better left a surprise, though in the interest of warning off certain sensitive viewers, it's worth mentioning that it involves a nauseating scene of emotional and physical violence. The dark turn comes shortly after Dohan and Mer announce their love to Mer's father, a sheik who isn't ready to accept this brazen product of the love generation into his family. So Dohan and Mer wander off into the desert alone, meet another group of welcoming nomads, and something goes horrifically wrong.
The sensual sex scenes and raw violence of God's Sandbox make it pretty much an exploitation film, and as an exploitation film, it isn't bad. Even at its most predictable, the story is consistently gripping, and Eran successfully toys with the audience's emotions as he gradually reveals the charmingly exotic to be something more alien and sinister. But what exactly is being exploited here? Fear of aggressive female sexuality? Fear of regressive Middle Eastern cultures? How beautiful sand dunes look on film? Eran has a strong sense of how to spin the universal emotions of resentment and revenge into drama—however conventional—but something about God's Sandbox just feels wrong. Maybe it's because even when it's shocking us, it's saying exactly what we expect to hear.