Don't let Judge Daryl Loomis bite you, not even if he begs.
If the press about Rabies is correct and it is, indeed, the first ever Israeli horror film, then it's a heck of a genre debut. Likewise, it's an excellent first effort for the writer/director team of Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales. It's not a perfect movie, and there are some genuine problems with the storytelling, but there's a ton to like in this foreign slasher entry.
Facts of the Case
When four young tennis players on their way to a tournament take a wrong turn down a country road, they come across a guy who claims his sister fell down a hole. The men go to help get her out, while the women stay behind to call the police. Now separated, the helpers find that the sister has disappeared and, while they search the forest, the cops arrive to quickly prove themselves as opportunistic pervs. The girls escape into the woods, grabby cops in pursuit, but like their friends, now they must contend with the horrors of the woods, including landmines, traps, and a psychotic killer in overalls.
Rabies begins well, if in conventional fashion, with a terrified young woman injured in a hole. Her brother runs off to find help, but screams just before a loud crash. We then cut to our four teens getting lost in the woods. It's a typical slasher opening, but Rabies is not the typical slasher fare. The difference is both a benefit and a curse, which makes for a mixed, though mostly positive, horror debut.
It has nothing at all to do with rabies, the disease, though. The title refers to the rage that comes out of the characters when they've been pushed to the brink. It's kind of like rabies, I guess. Papushado and Keshales go for a more character-driven experience than most of its kind and, by replacing the premarital sex with stretches of dialog and relationships, they're able to make the individual stories more dramatic. That's a remarkably novel concept in a slasher movie, which is pretty sad, but I'd like it a lot more if there weren't so many dang stories. In just over ninety minutes, they try to develop relationships among nine people, while still making room for plenty of mayhem. Before any of them can get their stories out, they've already died. The supposed psychotic killer isn't important to the plot at all, barely making an appearance, and I haven't even mentioned the park ranger and his girlfriend.
The story could be a lot more concise, but they handle the mayhem very well. The violence comes in short bursts, but is plentiful and pretty graphic. The characters attack each other with savage violence and each attack makes sense in context, which is pretty rare in itself. The gore effects are convincing, with a couple of really nasty kills and some quicker stuff to keep the audience on their toes. They have a good sense of pace and a great cast that sells the rage really well. The dialog works pretty well, injecting a little bit of humor mixed in here and there to help break the tension. The characters are well-realized in the performances and they seem to have depth and backstory that I would love to have seen explored, but this suffers from the short length and multitude of characters.
Rabies looks pretty good, too. It a straightforward production without gimmicks, just really good editing that keeps the tension up and clean, attractive cinematography by Guy Raz. The entire movie takes place in broad daylight over a very short span of time, but both aspects are work well. It's not scary in any traditional sense, but suspenseful and sharply made, which is better than I can say for most of the American horror being released today.
From Image Entertainment, the disc for Rabies is technically very good. The anamorphic image transfer is sharp and clean with excellent colors. It's a bright film, but the white levels stand up nicely with solid detail and good depth in the shadows. The surround sound is a pretty good mix, too. It has excellent separation in the channels and good ambient sound. The dialog is all clear and the subtle musical score by Frank Ilfman (Nemesis Game) comes across nicely. The only extra is a trailer.
The story would have worked better if the filmmakers hadn't tried to do so much in such a short time, but the mayhem and the body count make up a lot of the problems with the plot. There's a ton of promise in Rabies and I can't wait to see what these guys come up with next, but I can only give their debut a mild recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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