A good horror flick often relies on a simple sense of balance. The recent import Rabies, for example, is saddled with a premise that, at first glance, sounds like every "survival horror" flick ever made -- but on the other side of the scales is the fact that Rabies hails from Israel. That, in and of itself, is pretty interesting, mainly because Israel doesn't produce all that many horror flicks. So while it's that novelty that earns Rabies a few points -- ones that will help a loyal viewer from overlooking some of the film's more familiar components -- it's the darkly humorous and surprisingly clever screenplay that makes Rabies an unexpectedly engaging import.
Debut feature from the writing / directing / editing team of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado (and known as Kalevet in its native Hebrew), Rabies actually has nothing to do with diseased animals, unless you count the human kind. We open with a young lady stuck in a trap; her brother, desperate to find some help, runs off, and (of course) a ravenous murderer shows up. We then cut to a secondary plot about (you guessed it) a group of loud young adults on their way to somewhere fun. As soon as the requisite character development is out of the way, plot thread A bangs right into plot thread B, and that's when Rabies spins off in some amusingly unexpected directions.
It'd be misleading to call Rabies a comedy of terrors, as it's not a "ha ha" funny horror flick, but it is the screenplay's consistently contorted nature that keeps the movie plowing forward. Rabies does an impressive job of subverting our expectations of the "slasher survivor" sub-genre, and the filmmakers seem to take great delight in having their characters bounce off each other in various surprising (and often gruesome) ways. After a while the murderer takes a back seat to the rapidly escalating domino effect of carnage. (To say much more would spoil the fun, but again: this is a much cleverer screenplay than a slasher flick demands.)
Well-shot, crisply paced, supported by decent performances (especially from the leading ladies), and evidence of filmmakers who are not content to just tromp through the same old horror forest, Rabies is a refreshing little import indeed. Here's hoping Israel's next horror flicks are this cool.
Rabies premiered earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival, and will soon screen at Frightfest UK and Fantasia Fest in Montreal. And probably more soon...