James Reviews Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Rabies [Fantastic Fest 2011 Review]

If anyone knows me, they know I’m a bit of a horror fanatic. I will check out the majority of horror films that come out every year, especially those horror films that come from countries I’m not familiar with their horror output. Case in point, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Rabies, the first Israeli horror film to be made. This blew my mind completely, and seeing one still from the film with one of the characters, face full of blood, had me intrigued. But when I heard it was an atypical slasher film, it made me quite happy that it wasn’t some viral outbreak, zombie film. I was worried it would be like Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, but instead got a breath of fresh air in the horror world.

We open the film in complete darkness, hearing a conversation between Tali (Liat Har Lev), who is trapped in some sort of box, and her brother Ofer (Henry David), who we see through a slot on the top. He throws down a lighter so she can see where she is, this enclosed space, and Ofer tells her that he will try to find a way to get her out. This is interrupted by his screams of pain and we open the film with the title in blood red letters. Then we have a car full of young people headed to a tennis resort who get lost in this animal reserve and hit Ofer who just comes out of nowhere in front of their car. Mikey (Ran Danker), the driver and his obnoxious best friend Pini (Ofer Shechter) are both eyeing the beautiful blonde Shir (Yael Grobglas), while Adi (Ania Bukstein) is in love with her as well. Ofer gets up and tells them that his sister is trapped in the woods and that she needs help. Mikey and Pini reluctantly go with him while Adi and Shir call the cops to let them know of the situation.

While this is happening, we’re introduced to rangers Menashe (Menashe Noy) and Rona (Efrat Boimold), who are having a bit of a tiff in their relationship and Rona insists Menashe supervise her work for real this time. We also see the actual ‘slasher’ of the film, chasing down and carrying Tali when Menasher is patrolling the area and he proceeds to shoot some tranquilizer darts at him. Finally we get two cops who are having a horrible day, Yuval (Danny Geva) and Danny (Lior Ashkenazi) and things start to go from bad to worse in a matter of seconds. Somehow all these lives are going to intertwine in one way or another and will continue to shape the film as it goes along.

Keshales and Papushado’s script for the film deals with horror stereotypes that we all know, love and in some cases might even be sick of, but they give them a new lease in life and inject some darkly tinged wit into them all. We have the forbidden love of a couple, a good-natured park ranger, a silent killer, young good looking individuals who all want one another in some way, and an evil cop and a bumbling cop, all in the same film. In most cases people would be shaking their heads, but in Rabies the twists and turns of the slasher film are put on their head in a very different way, and not wanting to ruin it for all of you makes this review hard to tackle.

There’s a series of misunderstandings, where if someone just asked a simple question might have diffused it, but instead we see the shit hit the fan and all hell breaks loose and we as horror fans are thankful for it. They also throw in a ton of weapons throughout that we know will be used in the highest order, such as knives, guns, sledgehammers and even landmines and we wait with baited breath as to how they will be used and who will be using them. That’s the twist to the film, the chaotic nature of people and how a good person can have a bad day and instead of walking away from a fight, one will go a step in the wrong direction and kill someone in a horrific way.

The film also looks absolutely beautiful, which is always a wonder to behold in the world of horror. Instead of murky looking scenes, we have some vibrant forest scenery and considering the film takes place during the day as opposed to the night, it gives a different look at the whole spooky woods sub genre of horror films. It’s also a survival horror film, a genre that seems to be getting a boost as of late and this film is definitely going in the right direction. The title Rabies itself might be looked as a strange title, but when you see the film you’ll get the reason for naming it all too well. It’s a clever use of the word and makes sense as we see these random people going quite insane for apparently simple reasons.

The first horror film from Israel is also one of the best horror films I’ve seen this year or the past 5 years for that matter. They’re hitting 1.000% right now and ultimately it’s because two guys really loved the horror genre and decided to make their own film but do something new, fresh and exciting with it. Usually the gushing comes from the blood and guts I see in these films, but I’m doing so for writer/directors Keshales and Papushado, who deserve a ton of the credit for taking what could have been a topic that could get boring in less capable hands and took it to a level I didn’t quite expect when I was going into the film and sitting in my seat. It had me at attention the whole running time and I can’t wait to watch it again and to ultimately own the film. It’s a must watch, not only in the horror genre but in any genre at all.