FEBRUARY 26, 2012
I love how the one or two movies I miss at Screamfest every year usually turn out to be pretty awesome and then I get all bummed out that I missed my chance to see them on the big screen. But I remind myself that it’s rare I find something as good as Rabies (Israeli: Kalevet) when it comes to the “new on DVD” portion of Horror Movie A Day, so I guess it’s nice to have these little surprises to sustain me until festival season rolls around again and I am (hopefully/ideally) overloaded with quality entries.
Rabies is the first horror film of this type to come out of Israel, something I would have loved to have learned more about on the DVD extras, but alas, there aren’t any (just the trailer). I don’t know enough about their world to know WHY they haven’t been making slasher movies, but I hope this isn’t an anomaly – if subsequent Israeli horror films are this good, I’d say they’ll be a fine source of imported horror.
What makes this even more interesting is that it’s actually quite original, which is unusual for these “first horror” films. Take Hell’s Ground (the first Pakistan gore film) for example – it’s a fun movie, but it’s basically a nonstop series of “homages” to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, etc. It also lacked cohesion, jumping from one sub-genre to the next without any real buildup or apparent reason to do so. Thus, I sort of expected the same here; an interesting but not particularly original full length tribute to slasher movies like Friday the 13th and such.
But that’s not the case. It starts off like one; we meet a girl who has fallen into a hunter’s trap, and her brother is attacked off-screen. Then we’re introduced to our heroes, a car full of kids who take a wrong turn and began paying less attention to the road as they argue about the map and such. In other words – it’s like every damn horror movie you’ve ever seen, albeit in a language you’re probably not familiar with. However, that’s the beauty of Rabies – it lulls you into thinking that you know how everything is going to end up, only to turn it on its head.
Thus, I won’t go into any further plot explanation, other than to hint that it’s more Fargo than Friday, but still very rooted in the horror genre. The twists and turns that the movie takes are impossible to predict too far out; even when I started getting a handle on how writer/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado were planning on carrying out their film, I was still going “Oh no, shit!” every few minutes. And they deftly blend their horror with some well-placed humor (of the dark variety) and even some minor pathos near the end; they are just as good as keeping you guessing with your emotions as they are with the plot itself. No small feat, that.
In fact I only had two concerns related to the film. One is the rather brutal killing of a dog early on; in the grand scheme of things it fits (it borders on ironic, in fact), but it’s still hard to take and put me off of the movie for a while – they hadn’t quite hooked me in yet at this point. Luckily the rest of the film made up for it, but not every viewer is as dedicated to finishing a film as I am, and they might lose some folks at the 20 minute mark or so before they have a chance to show what the film is really about.
The other I don’t know who to point the blame at: the subtitles. First of all they don’t default to “on”, which is odd for a Region 1 disc for a foreign film, so be sure to go into the menu and turn them on before you hit play as there is some dialogue right off the bat (I watched for a minute or so assuming we weren’t SUPPOSED to understand it). There are also a few moments where the subs don’t come on when people are talking, and in one instance they are seemingly telling us things that the characters can’t decipher for themselves. A character is trying to relay crucial information through a busted jaw, and we can read it clearly – but the character he is speaking too is clearly unable to understand him (which has decidedly violent results). The subs should have said “(indecipherable)” or something; otherwise it just makes the other character look like a bloodthirsty asshole.
Yep, that’s it. Wonky subtitle issues that are probably beyond the filmmakers’ control anyway, and the death of a dog that takes another hour or so to resonate (and thus it might not even dawn on viewers). And that might have just been upsetting me more because my own pet (a cat) is having health problems - Halloween features the death of TWO dogs (albeit not in as brutal a manner; one's just mentioned, in fact) and I have no problem with that movie, obviously. Those are my only issues with a modern horror film from first time filmmakers. In other words, go buy the DVD at once. I would be honestly shocked if this didn’t end up in my top 10 list for the year.
What say you?