by Jason Coffman
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It is always a pleasure to find new horror films coming from unexpected places, and Rabies certainly qualifies. It is being marketed in the States as the first Israeli horror film, and I have no reason to argue otherwise. Rabies begins as a film in the grand tradition of “people lost in the woods with a murderer on the loose” stories, but takes that setup and does something completely unexpected with it. If this is a sign of things to come from the Israeli horror scene, horror fans have a lot to look forward to when they make a second horror film.
The film opens with an effectively claustrophobic scene: Tali (Liat Harlev) has fallen into a person-sized trap deep in the woods while running away from home with her brother Ofer (Henry David). Ofer tells Tali to calm down and wait for him to go find help, but some ominous sounds suggest Ofer may not be back any time soon. Cut to the morning and we meet park ranger Menashe (Menashe Noy) and his young wife Rona (Efrat Boimold), preparing for another typical day in the woods. After dropping off Rona at their home base, Menashe and his dog set out on their daily patrol and discover a man in overalls (Yaron Motola) pulling Tali out of his trap.
Meanwhile, a group of college tennis players become lost on their way to another school for a tournament and end up on the outskirts of the same woods. Mike (Ran Danker), the driver, is the cool one who has to deal with his friend Pini (Ofer Shechter) and his goofy outbursts. In the back seat are Adi (Ania Bukstein) and Shir (Yael Grobglas), who it seems everyone else in the car has a crush on. Pini and Adi trade barbs and try to flirt with Shir while Mike tries to figure out where they are, and before long they stumble upon Ofer looking for help. They call the police, putting the last piece of the film’s puzzle into place: partners Yuval (Danny Geva) and Danny (Lior Ashkenazi), already both on edge because of their own personal problems, are sent to retrieve the tennis players from the woods.
Once all the players are in place, Rabies follows several different storylines involving this cast of characters that overlap at key moments, constantly defying expectations of where the overall story might be heading. There is no shortage of graphic violence, but the circumstances in which it happens are often completely unexpected. Co-writer/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado turn the woods into a sort of warped funhouse mirror that brings out the worst in all these characters, and a minefield fraught with traps and conveniently placed objects that can be employed as impromptu weapons.
Keshales and Papushado are deft at crafting tense sequences, and the multi-story structure of the film leads to more than a few shocking moments and some well-placed laughs. As dark and violent as Rabies is, the film is also shot through with a gleeful sense of black humor, saving its best bits for last. The constant unease knowing that none of the characters are safe from harm and the ever-twisting plot lines make Rabies one of the best direct-to-disc horror films to come down the line in some time, and should not be missed by genre fans and fans of unique international cinema in general.
Image Entertainment released Rabies on DVD on 28 February 2012. The film is presented in Hebrew with English subtitles, and the disc includes a theatrical trailer for the film.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and is a regular contributor to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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