Saturday, May 19, 2012

We ARE the Disease: Rabies (2011)

At first, Rabies seems like just another "killer in the woods" movie, but patience leads to an effective debut horror flick from Israel. 

First I have to say, don't turn this film on expecting to see a rehash of Cujo.  Not going to happen.  This movie has less to do with literal rabies and more to do with figurative rabies. Rabies in the way of madness, not disease.  We've got revenge, incest, crooked cops, un-exploded mine fields, bear traps, sexual deviants (and that is besides the incest!) - all kinds of fun.

Filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Paushado first introduce us to a couple that are experiencing some kind of trauma.  In the woods, Tali (Liat Harlev) is a young woman apparently trapped in a hole in the ground and her suitor Ofer (or brother, as we learn later in an incestuous curve-ball) is attempting to find a way to get her out. It's an effective start, and begins in complete darkness as we hear the couple try to gauge their situation and remedy their unusual predicament. When Ofer (Henry David) says he is going for help, we hear a struggle off-screen with an obvious poor end result.

Within the film you'll quickly notice that the director has decided to cut from scene to scene, meaning that just as we think a situation is resolving, he moves to another group and their progress.  (At first it seems distracting, but you get used to it quickly and actually look forward to this technique.)
Also figuring in are Menashe (Menashe Noy) and Rona ( Efrat Boimold), a couple that take their dog into the woods with them. Menashe is a park ranger and is doing some sort of survey on the fox population in the area (riveting work, I'm sure). They squabble lovingly, chatting on walkies after splitting up in different directions.

Thrown into this already distracting mix are Mikey (Ran Danker) and Pini (Ofer Schecter), off to a tennis tournament with two girls, Adi (Ania Bukstein, seemingly the token lesbian) and Shir ((Yael Grobglas, who seems rather virginal but we are never truly informed).  They are barreling down the highway adjacent to the woods when they hit the mortally wounded Ofer, on the run from an unseen presence.

This unseen presence isn't so unseen to us, the audience.  Almost immediately we are privy to the killer's identity, which more or less throws all caution to the wind.  We know he's out there, but they don't.  Not really a different approach, but somehow it works. 

What begins to happen, after the body count starts, is that everyone seems to unhinge a little bit at a time.  When the tennis quartet hits Ofer with their car, Mikey and Pini go off with him into the woods to find his girlfriend, leaving the two girls alone (in a rather "of course!" kind of move).  Soon the police arrive, but this isn't exactly comforting when you realize one of the cops, Yuval (Danny Geva) , is a male chauvinist pig who uses his authority to prey on women.  The other cop, Danny (Lior Ashkenazi), seems like a decent enough guy, but is quarreling by cell phone with his wife and is therefore not really paying attention to Yuval as he sexually accosts Shir by checking her for weapons.  Why he thinks she would have a lethal weapon up her vagina is beyond me. 

As the film progresses, secrets are revealed, relationships collapse, risks are taken, mistakes are colossal, and much blood is spilled.  I wouldn't say there is a real twist of any kind, like so many films try to pull off near the end, but there are surprises that you won't see coming.  Just when you think you've figured out their "final girl/guy" strategy, you find you're baffled by yet another shock.  Some definite "gasp" moments here, a few of which are truly crushing.

Something else that impressed me here was the dark humor that infiltrated the film at interesting moments. In fact, there is a hilarious scene near the end in which one of our characters is trying to procure a ride from a family lost in the woods as they were.  They are too busy bickering amongst themselves to notice the person they are offering a ride to is covered in blood and can barely speak. 
Also humorous is the last scene of the film, in which our killer (Yaron Motola) is trying to hitchhike and no one will pick him up, so he ironically shouts something about the country being full of shits.  I don't think it's giving too much away to let you know he is in the last scene.  His presence is almost metaphorical. The film is so much more about the various other relationships and how far we can go when pushed.

And yet, there are times of true poignancy, when a dying character is trying to make it home in time to erase some strongly-worded rants left on an answering machine to an estranged lover.  You really want said individual to make it home and smooth things over.
To be able to reach an audience enough to have them feel that tug of bittersweet sadness for the plight of a character is no small feat in a horror film.

I believe if this film is indicative of how passionate these two filmmakers are about their work, we can expect good things from them in the future.  And perhaps from Israel in general.


Marie said...

This movie sounds pretty interesting. I assume it is captioned?

Christine Hadden said...

Yep, subtitled. And I think you'd like it :)

Doug Brunell said...

I have heard mixed things on this one. Still not sure what to think.

AVY said...

It sounds really strange.


Kaijinu said...

you know, you're the first reviewer I know who gave a good eye to this film, and I'm glad.

Such a cool movie!