Film Review - 'Rabies'
'Rabies', available from Amazon.
If I told you that this was the first horror film ever made in Israel, what would that suggest to you? An amateur effort that you'd be better off avoiding, maybe? Or, something with the potential to offer an interesting new take on a worn-out and cliche-ridden genre? Either way, that's exactly what Rabies (or Kalevet, in Hebrew) is. Fortunately, it is also a film that seems to drift much more toward the latter, than the former.
It is a good movie, served well by a talented cast of actors, which makes good use of its daylight woodland setting. It is also a film that manages to subvert the usual tropes of your average slasher film in a variety of ways. Beyond that, though, it feels like it is a film that could also be very easily spoiled. So, if you want the experience that I had of being able to go in blind and with no idea what to expect, then feel free to stop reading here, take a look at the rating I've given it, and maybe go and get hold of a copy for yourself. Thank you for reading one of the shortest reviews I've ever written.
If you want some more information about the film, though, keep reading.
It starts in familiar territory. An attractive young woman finds herself stuck in a complicated pit trap that had been set up for unknown reasons. Her brother, also young and attractive, finds her but is unable to get her out alone - so, he heads off to try to find help.
He meets with a group of (young and attractive) friends who have managed to get lost on their way to a nearby country club. They agree to help, however reluctantly - the young men head off into the woods, while the young women stay with the car, to call the cops.
While he is gone, though, a mysterious figure comes to check on his traps - and, recover his prize. The young woman is bound and gagged, and carried away. They aren't the only ones in these woods, though - a park ranger, conducting a survey of the area (and armed with a rifle and a load of tranquilizer darts), also manages to get himself involved. Seeing a man walking off into the distance with a woman slung over his shoulder, he reacts instinctively and takes a couple of quick shots.
But, here, things take a strange turn. A lucky shot from a tranquilizer dart leaves the killer stunned - he can do little more than dump the young woman and stumble off into the woods, where he collapses and is forgotten about for the rest of the film. The young woman was also hit by a dart, and left unconscious - the ranger who managed to rescue her doesn't know that there are also three other men desperately looking for her. And the police, when they do show up, may turn out to be a much bigger threat to the other young women who were left behind.
So much of the random acts of violence that the viewer will be confronted with by this film seem completely pointless, and easily avoidable. But (and, I almost feel like slapping myself for even typing this sentence) that very pointlessness is actually the whole point. The unnamed killer may have set things in motion with his interrupted attempt to kidnap a young woman but having him taken out of the picture early on isn't enough to stop the gradual descent into complete chaos. A moment of anger or panic, or a tragic misunderstanding, leads to an act of violence - which leads to another which, seemingly more often than not, leads to the death of a character. Even the very environment gets in on the action, here, when characters realize that they have inadvertently stumbled into a mine-field (this is Israel, remember).
It is a film which, by the film-maker's own admission, was intended to provide something of a microcosm for ways in which violence and conflict have torn apart their own country. What you get in the end, if you choose to see it that way, is exactly that - relationships are torn apart, people lash out at threats both real and imagined, and there is often very little attempt to justify any of it. Even on that all to rare occasion where a death may be deserved, it is still treated as something tragic and unnecessary.
It's a slasher film that seems to have a message it wants to share, then - which must seem strange enough from a genre that typically treats violence as a spectacle. The violence that takes place is, as the film's very title suggests, treated in an almost metaphorical way - suggesting an infectious disease capable of infecting anyone, at any time. Yet, the fact that this message rarely feels heavy-handed, or intrusive, is actually quite impressive. It's a point that could easily have seemed painfully pompous - but, coming from Israel, a country that actually has been torn apart by conflict in recent years, it feels appropriate.
There is, quite often, a morbid sort of appeal to the violence offered up by your average slasher film. That's why we watch them, after all (at least, for those of us who actually do watch them). We want to be shocked, and maybe a little disturbed, by what we see - and the film-maker's, knowing that that's why we're there, seem to take a certain joy in trying to give us what we want. But, there is none of that in this film. Moments of, particularly dark, black comedy serve to break up the tension - but, they don't come often enough to offer any real relief from what is, essentially, a bleak film.
© 2013 Dallas Matier
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