Low-budget Israeli slasher flick Rabies has one unfortunate dog in it but no actual cases of rabies, just some contagious human nastiness meant to show the slow, infectious rot of a country losing its mind.
Made by the filmmaking duo Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, Rabies initially gathers much of its strength from misdirecting the audience. It opens with a young woman caught in some woodland trap by a nameless psychopath. Her injured brother goes off to look for help, and then he’s almost run over by an SUV improbably full of attractive coeds lost on their way to a tennis match. He convinces the two guys to go into the woods to rescue his sister, leaving behind a pair of girls, outfitted in short tennis skirts, and they soon get harassed by a pervy cop on patrol.
By now, you’re probably thinking this is some kind of Hebrew-language Wrong Turn, with the teens getting picked off one by one by a creepy killer in the forest. You’d be half right. Gory deaths await (watch out for land mines), but the psychopath is just a decoy. The filmmakers quickly shuffle him offscreen for nearly the whole movie and focus on what they really care about: a simmering-under-the-surface nastiness in ordinary people that erupts every now and then in a surprising readiness to kill. Because this is Israel, and not Iceland, the nastiness can’t escape carrying a somewhat political charge. Nothing explicit is said about war or growing class resentment or any of the other things ruffling Israeli society, but it’s clear the social contract has begun to fray, and you catch this in the problems nagging at the characters’ backgrounds: failing marriages, estranged parents, even, bizarrely enough, incest. “This country is full of shits,” as the psychopath says in the post-credits gag.
Shot in a washed-out aesthetic in what must be the tiniest forest in the world, Rabies, unfortunately, suffers from many of the weaknesses of the movies it’s inspired by: generally low-budget production values, uneven performances, occasionally cringe-inducing dialogue, and physical and psychological realities that operate solely for the pleasure of the screenwriter. Expect cars to conveniently fail to start at critical moments and cell phone reception to be as it was in the Middle Ages. No character will make an intelligent, plausible decision if he/she can help it. The filmmakers are in on the joke, I assume.