Year: 2010 (No U.S. distro yet)
Director: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Writers: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Region of Origin: Israel
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: Unrated
Color, 90 mins

Synopsis: A brother and sister fall into the trap of a psychopathic killer, and in a twist of fate, their ordeal becomes inadvertently intertwined with the lives of a group of young tennis players, a ranger and his dog, as well as a team of policemen. (Source)

Out of the seven movies I saw at Screamfest, Rabies, from Israeli film-critics-turned-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, is unequivocally the best of the fest and one of the most satisfying movie experiences of the entire year. It completely blew me away on every conceivable level — technique, writing, acting and even music are all top notch, and the movie turns a very simple and generic teens-in-the-woods premise into something truly terrifying: a sharp, relentless and hilarious pitch-black commentary on social archetypes and human nature. It truly has some of the most profound and poignant allusions to the fragility of human connection and relationships that I’ve seen in any movie recently, horror or otherwise. And if that sounds pretty ambitious, it is, as from the movie’s opening frame to its wholly unexpected ending, it’s a very jarring and pulse-pounding experience that’s bound to leave you with a lot to think about long after it’s been over.

The movie smartly contains four groups of very distinct people, whom by chance come to get lost in a heavily booby trapped nature reserve. We’ve got a pair of star-crossed lovers who fall prey to a psychotic killer, four tennis players lost on their way to a match, two forest rangers who are also lovers and two overtly apathetic and preoccupied cops. From the aforementioned description, you should already be able to judge the subversive nature of the movie’s central conceit, and it’s a shame I can’t tell you more because it would most certainly ruin the fun! What I can say is that each party has secrets that unfold throughout the course of events and all contain extremely fleshed out and brilliantly acted characters with distinct, nuanced personalities. Together they’re an explosive molotov cocktail of insanity and true fear, which reflect upon the chaotic self-destructive nature of modern society.

I know it sounds like a lot to swallow, but aside from the movie’s somewhat implausible and outlandish plot (which operates on a satirical level) it’s a story where the character development is relatable and organic, as each action helps to enforce the different types of archetypes involved. The dialogue alone is amazing and fast-paced, and I couldn’t believe how natural and emotionally charged each brutal and bloody death is. As if that isn’t enough (and why should it be?), the movie is hilarious. It never, ever comes close to becoming parody, but is played completely straight and deadpan, never overdoing it and waiting for just the right time to inject its pitch-black irony to send certain scenes over the top (you should know that I audibly laughed a lot).

From top to bottom, it’s a stunning achievement, which Keshales and Papushado tell through precision and ease with a very rough but precise doc-style aesthetic. The color palette is muted, shots are blurred, unfocused, skewed and even flipped upside down, but for once I feel like the directors were actually in control of every loose and chaotic frame. It’s become very common to see this style with the misguided intention of making a movie feel “gritty,” but it’s rare to actually see something like this where you can sense its purpose and see it maximizing not only the story’s pace, but more importantly its emotion.

I’m sorry if this is all sounds vague, but Rabies is a movie that should be seen with the least amount of pre-judgement and foreknowledge. If you’re a horror fan, see it. If you can stomach some pretty intense gore and a relentless pace that never lets up, see it — you’ll also find its story is unlike any other. It’s thought-provoking, haunting and will literally leave you breathless. My one major quibble is that while I obviously found a strong metaphorical context to relate with, I’m wondering if it only gets deeper with cultural knowledge of the film’s Israeli origin (let me know in the comments if you know anything!). At any rate, it’s a movie that cries out to be seen, and shouldn’t be missed if you ever get the chance.

Crome Rating: 4.5/5