Image Entertainment continues to branch out into foreign territories this month with their release of the Israeli horror film Rabies, a cutthroat and convoluted gore fest in which a string of mounting confrontations with moral quandary spiral out of control into a serendipitously grotesque bloodbath of epic proportions. Though hardly revolutionary, the movie thwarts genre expectations successfully enough to be entertaining – and even occasionally insightful – in addition to being gleefully fraught with blood and guts.
Rabies takes place in a single afternoon, on the outskirts of populated civilization, following a non-fatal highway accident involving a car full of young, sexy tennis players and a disoriented pedestrian. After getting accidentally brained by their car, runaway socialite Ofer (Henry David) must convince the tennis players to accompany him into the woods to rescue his sister, who he deliriously explains is caught in an underground trap. Reluctantly, male tennis players Mikey and Pini go with Ofer, leaving lady tennis players Adi and Shir alone on the highway, where a pair of belligerent and shifty patrolmen soon confront and interrogate them. A series of mishaps, misunderstandings, and unfortunate coincidences ensues, leaving various members of the cast intermittently stranded, wounded, dead, and/or fearful of legal retribution for acts of overzealous self-defense or impulsive anger. As jarring twists of fate continue to provoke unexpected and questionable retaliation, it becomes unclear which characters are truly worthy of sympathy, and which ones are “evil.”
I popped in my copy of Rabies expecting a rote slasher movie rounded off with some contagion paranoia, but that’s definitely not what this movie is up to. The title is a complete and total mystery – no character in the movie ever contracts rabies, or at least no one ever talks explicitly about it – and although it contains a character who is apparently a marauding psycho killer, his presence in the narrative is pretty much incidental. People get hacked and slashed a lot (as well as exploded, impaled, and bludgeoned to death) but the core of the film’s ethos is more directly concerned with the brutality of fate, and the often complicated roots of human violence, than with any standard hack-and-slash formula. Though it lacks any literal mention of disease, an ironic element of transference exists in the instances of violence themselves – desperation, fear, and confusion push characters to commit acts of horrific brutality, and the reverberations of those actions drive the survivors to brutalize others in turn.
A lot of longwinded crap could probably be said about an explosive carnage cocktail like Rabies being produced in a country with such an immediate history of conflict and strife, but as much as it pains me to articulate such trite sentiments, I have to admit the subversion of genre conventions in Rabiesis interesting, if not totally revolutionary or new. It’s essentially a dark comedy about the relativity and inexactitude of justifying moral decisions, and about how violent conflict can obscure the personal histories and complex motivations of individuals who find themselves engaged in it.
The DVD for Rabies is depressingly dry, although I enjoyed the totally inappropriate early ‘90s cyberpunk aesthetic of the main menu screen. I’m intrigued enough by the movie, though, that I would have enjoyed watching a director interview or listening to a commentary track, and the disc doesn’t even include trailers. Very uncool, Image Entertainment.
Regardless of the stripped-down presentation, it’s nice that Rabies is getting some play in North America I guess. The execution isn’t perfect, but the filmmakers obviously had some real ideas they were interested in exploring, and the film is entertaining and shocking regardless. It’s maybe not high political or social commentary, but it’s definitely a film with a vision, and for the mileage you’re already getting out of all the guts and grue, that’s at least a handsome bonus.