From a country whose films are often overtly political, Rabies is touted as the first Israeli horror film. Set solely in a forested area of a nature reserve it begins with a brother desperately trying to save his sister from a deranged hunter’s trap and inadvertently dragging a varied group of strangers into his plight. And as the assumptions and misunderstandings increase, so does the body count.
To call Rabies a horror film may be somewhat of a misnomer. When the violence begins it hits with brutality and authenticity, but lacks the fear and hopelessness that frequently accompanies the horror genre. Rarely sympathetic and frequently unbelievable, Rabies lacks an emotional centre, a large cast with no protagonist. However, viewing Rabies solely on its exterior is sorely missing the point, as it could well be viewed as a satire on the horror genre. All the archetypes are present, but far from the correct. There’s the psychopathic killer; two friends hoping to become more familiar with their female counterparts; the corrupt policemen and the in love husband and wife. Some cleverly play into their typical roles, while some stay very much away. Unfortunately, messing with a single convention does not make an effective satire.
The screenplay, written by directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, is both Rabies‘ strongest and weakest element. At times funny, sweet and with a healthy sense of unease, the relationship between the group of friends is strong, but this doesn’t make up for the film being boring for the most part, relying too much on coincidence to carry the plot forward. Very little is revealed in the beginning, in particular why the siblings were in the forest in the first place, and I suspected this was a conscious decision on the part of the writers to slowly reveal certain aspects. In the end I found this to be incorrect as I was left with too many questions.
The slimy, corrupt policeman, Yuval (Danny Geva) was, by far, the standout character, and was the only character I had any feelings towards. A key scene in which he takes searching the girls too far left me very uncomfortable, and the lingering camera shot on the girl’s face is haunting and will likely stay with you. The contagious nature of violence is the central theme of Rabies and the repercussions of this can be seen throughout the film; violence is used sparsely, but used effectively when it is. While not overtly political, I personally felt there was a comment on the state of affairs in Israel and the futility of retaliation in solving any problems.
Rabies is a solid first effort for directors Keshales and Papushado, but the directionless nature of the screenplay and a lack of sympathetic characters left me cold. There is certainly potential here and I am curious to see Israel’s next foray into genre film.