Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hebrew Horror & the Laws of Bear Traps

By minor research (e.g., reading an article in Fangoria), it seems that Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Rabies is the first true horror film made in Israel.

That’s one promising start.

Quick Plot: On a sunny afternoon just off a highway, three sets of friends, lovers, or teammates find their lives intertwined in violent and horrifying ways. We've got:

-Ofer & Tali, a pair of runaway siblings with a pretty obvious Cersi/Jaime Lannister connection and the ill luck to end up in an elusive slasher’s trap

-Adi, Shir, Pini, & Mike, four tennis players in a carful of sexual tension about to meet…

-Yuval & Danny, a bad cop/distracted cop duo

-Lastly is Menasche and Rona, a sweetly happy couple who both work in the woods

To go into too much plot detail could potentially spoil what I found to be one of the most refreshing genre films I’ve seen in some time. As I've said in the past with movies like Deadgirl and Dream Home, the trick with tired subgenres like zombie and slasher in this day and age is to either nail it with a 10 or, far more interestingly, find a way to reinterpret the conventions.

If I had to assign Rabies a specific type, I’d call it a slasher. And yet, that aspect of the film is barely an instigating force in the violence that follows. After the tried and trite image of a man carrying a gagged woman through the woods, Rabies lets its action flow through character choices.

Remember how a few weeks back I waged verbal war against The Darkest Hour for its exceedingly dull and unsympathetic leads? Watching Rabies just reinforces my hatred of that kind of lazy screenwriting. I can’t pronounce of the Israeli names in this film, yet I remember each one because the characters themselves were memorable. Within one quick scene, I was 100% charmed by the romance between Rona and Menasche. The dialogue was playful and cute, with secret little jokes that actual couples have with one another. The actors didn’t have to look like Vogue models: they just had to play off each other warmly. It may seem like I’m harping on this, but I truly am wowed by how well Rabies was able to craft some of (admittedly, not all) its characters into actual people who in any other film, would just be slasher meat.

Also, it’s really FUNNY! Rabies isn’t by any means a comedy, but writer/directors Keshales and Papushado tap into perfectly toned black humor throughout the film. It’s never distracting from some of the scarier or really, sadder moments, but some of the comic beats truly help Rabies sit as an unusual, indefinable, but highly entertaining little feature.

Plus, it has a scene involving a bear trap. As anyone who’s ever seen Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror or  even the I Spit On Your Grave remake knows, a bear trap makes everything 100000% better. It’s a law of physics.

High Points
Broken record alert! Any horror film set during the day, when the cruel sun gives far better light to violence than any artificial camera, automatically gets an A+ in my book

It helps to have excellent writing, but I would also commend the cast for finding the right beats for their characters. Some (mostly the younger men) fade a little bit, but Ania Bukstein’s Adi is a likable and spunky presence, while the older actors Menashe Noy, Efrat Boimold,  and Lior Ashkenazi establish strong, sympathetic characters with just a few spread out scenes

Low Points
This isn’t necessarily the movie’s fault, but be warned about the Netflix DVD: you have to access the English subtitles from the Main Menu, not that fancy li’l subtitle button so conveniently placed on your remote. Also, unlike most foreign releases, the film does not automatically begin with the English text. Blame Palestine. Or something (I don't really understand politics)

Lessons Learned
Getting shot in the stomach is not good...not good

There’s something called self-defense

When you’re dying of blood loss, it’s generally not advised to take a nap

I worry that I’m overselling Rabies as the next wave of horror cinema. By no means is it the scariest, wackiest, or most revolutionary film of all time. Instead, it’s a clever take on a traditional genre made by extremely promising filmmakers and an on-point cast. It’s worth seeing simply because it’s Israel’s first stab (or rather, sledgehammer swing) at the market, but even MORE worth seeing because it’s something truly unique. You’re welcome.


  1. I definitely had a great time with this one! It will forever be known in my heart as BAD DECISION PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS: RABIES. Rarely has such a horrifying cavalcade of bad decisions flowed without seeming forced or contrived. Making the serial killer be almost irrelevant was a brilliant touch, too.

  2. Sorry I missed your comment Webberly! I could definitely see that subtitle selling this film. Just a few lapses in judgment and before you know it, you're blown to bits in a mine...