Director: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Writer: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Danny Geva, Ania Bukstein
Apparently they don’t make horror movies in Israel. Explaining the reasons for this would, I am sure, require a far greater knowledge of Middle Eastern culture than I possess. But there is a first time for everything, as confidently demonstrated by Rabies, the debut film from Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado.
The opening scene sets it up as a torture film, in the vein of the Saw series, but this, as with many things in the film, is a misdirection. A girl, Tali (Liat Harlev), is trapped in a dungeon, and her companion, Ofer (Henry David), appears to be murdered, leaving her at the mercy of her pursuer. We could be forgiven for thinking that this will be the last we will see of them. But it is not. Ofer (as if being murdered wasn’t enough for one day) is run over by a group of young, beautiful tennis players and Tali is freed from her captor by being shot in the buttock with a tranquiliser dart. These things happen.
While many modern horror films, particularly those from across the Atlantic, can be stale and predictable, this is anything but. It is a slasher movie without a slasher, and one set entirely in broad daylight. Characters are introduced and dispensed with in ways that cannot be foreseen. The threat is nowhere and everywhere. The film also manages, with a skill which has largely been forgotten in the genre, to be extremely funny without detracting from the horror. It is not a comedy; it is a horror, and like many great horror films, it is extremely funny.
The characters are rapidly but adequately drawn and there are tangible moments of humanity. There are no bad performances and no performances which overshadow the others. Each plays their part and each part is important. There is enough gore on show to satisfy fans but nothing over the top; the only disappointment in this respect was one moment that was divided across two tense scenes. It cut between them too abruptly and, having promising much, it delivered little. The audience cringed in preparation, but were allowed to breathe too soon. But that was a minor aberration.
The soundtrack is a storming success, with a desperately cool main theme which had me tapping my foot until the last credit had rolled. It is shot beautifully too, as mentioned before in broad daylight, the setting an Israeli forest which is effectively forged into a threat. The daylight gives the film a slightly unreal tone, with lightly blurred green backgrounds and good use of sunlight, particularly towards the end.
There is no need for shadow tricks, everything is out in the open. Nobody is lost in the dark and everyone can navigate the woods quite adequately. It’s an honest and human terror that is created, everyday emotions spilling over in the midst of a delicate situation. That sells it short really, makes it sound less interesting than it is. But it is a glorious farce of a slasher movie, and one which is genuinely original.
I saw it at a special discount screening on the final day of the Edinburgh Film Festival. I counted twelve others. One was a young woman, probably Israeli judging by her accent and appearance, who left after about fifteen minutes. Needless to say, the turnout was disappointing. I hope it gets a run in the UK. Even if it doesn’t, I am sure Israel will no longer be one of those countries that doesn’t make horror movies.