Written and directed by Ahron Keshales, Navot Papushado
The premise that Israeli writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado start with in Rabies – the first horror film shot in Israel since … well, ever – sounds like a movie I’d want to see. The idea of a killer in the woods (Yaron Motola) who is simply too incompetent to put into motion the ideal terror spree is very appealing, but it serves as the catalyst for Rabies and not the centerpiece.
Failing to look both ways before crossing the street, the first character we spend time with, Ofer (Henry David), is struck by a car holding the doomed generation the film spends the most time with: Mikey (Ran Danker) is the jock, and Pini (Ofer Shechter) is his buddy along for the ride; blonde bombshell Shir (Yael Grobglas and spunky brunette Adi (Ania Bukstein) are the objects of their attention. The three men then embark into the woods to rescue Ofer’s sister, Tali (Liat Har Lev), who has been trapped by an incompetent killer, leaving the two girls to call the police.
Unfortunately, cops Yuval (Danny Geva) and Danny (Lior Ashkenazi) come on the scene, and the situation devolves quickly into sexual harassment and infighting. As this scene unfolds out in the wilderness, the constraints of society fade away to the point where even law enforcement is giving into devilish tendencies. The killer just serves as an excuse to create an environment that danger inhabits at every turn. Sexual deviancy, knives, guns, landmines, and the looming threat of serial murder invade the landscape and the minds of the characters in Rabies, showing that the title acts as more of a metaphor for our rabid tendencies as humans instead of actual infectious disease driving us to lunacy.
To its credit, Rabies defies convention and detours in often unexpected ways, giving way to some explosive moments you’ll still be thinking about days later. The flaw lies in the logic-defying characterizations of virtually everyone in the film. Since the twists and turns in the film exist only because of the at times inexplicable decisions made, those moments are undermined, and the whole film suddenly finds itself in danger of becoming a tumbling house of cards.
What saves Rabies is its inventiveness and its uniqueness which exists for two reasons: the intrinsic, god-given talent of Keshales and Papushado, and the undercurrent of frustration the filmmakers display concerning the climate and history of Israel. Although it’s inspiring and exciting that this country is finally being recognized on the world stage, no film should get a pass simply because it is the first of its kind. Rabies is important because of the subtext and point of view it implants into the underbelly of a typical survival horror. A new voice has emerged and that’s exciting – even if the result fails to make its point without sacrificing a great premise or depicting believable character motivations.
3 out of 5