Genre films follow a certain set of rules, and that’s rarely more evident than it is with slashers. If four young people go into the woods where a madman has already captured one young woman it’s almost certain these reckless young people will have sex and then be picked off by the killer until only the virgin remains. The kindly park ranger and hard-ass cops who stumble onto the scene will also fall victim to his murderous rampage. And the final shot will most likely be a jump-scare letting us know that the psycho has survived and may return for a sequel.
But Israel, it appears, is not fond of following rules.
Rabies is a new Israeli horror film (maybe the first), but while the setup feels familiar the resulting chaos that follows owes more to an episode of Three’s Company than it does to the slasher film genre.
A young woman has fallen into a trap set by a killer, and her brother runs off to find help. A park ranger and his trusty German Shepherd sit nearby enjoying another uneventful day on the job. Four twentysomethings en route to a tennis match get lost while driving through the woods. And two cops who arrive to investigate the events find their interrogation tactics to be more trouble than they’re worth.
Rabies doesn’t actually feature any characters (human, canine or other) suffering from the effects of rabies. In fact the only disease at work here is humanity itself. People are real bastards and just as likely to bash your head in with a rock as they are to ask about the weather. The film obviously pushes the idea to the extreme, but the end result is a genre pic that subverts expectations while still delivering many of the goods.
It basically has its Wonder Cake and eats it too.
The four tennis players for example are divided into two attractive girls and two frat-like guys. Their roles seem fairly clear yet they’re actually anything but. The sexual relationship is a bit different from the norm, their demises come as much out of jealousy and bad luck as from rage, and the virgin among them has a penis.
That’s not to say some of the deaths aren’t fueled by murderous anger or rage. It’s just that the person on the giving end of the deadly blows may be wearing white. And may take their turn as victim a few minutes later. It’s a crap-shoot of carnage powered by circumstance and character traits… like After Hours with a higher body count.
All people it seems are capable of homicide, not just the mumbling psychos with semen-stained pictured of their mom in their wallet. Co-directors/writer Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado are saying as much and have chosen a blackly comic horror film as their platform. The absurdity mounts almost as fast as the body count, and while some of the events feel a bit stretched and manhandled in order to fit the agenda, most of them move smoothly from normal to deadly to funny.
Certain expectations will most assuredly be met throughout Rabies while others will be crushed, reheated, and redirected in a completely different direction. Characters do die, most of them in gloriously bloody fashion, but it’s never in the way viewers expect. And the film’s biggest laugh comes in its final line of dialogue. It refers specifically to the nation of Israel, but it could easily be applied worldwide… because assholes aren’t bound by borders.
The Upside: Darkly comic; female leads are very easy on the eyes; some good bloodletting and effects
The Downside: Several actions and outcomes feel forced into the film’s premise; violence from misunderstanding is too common