Having originally made its UK debut almost two years ago at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Rabies (Kalevet, 2010) went on to wow ardent horror fans at Film4 FrightFest where the film was given an extra screening to supplement the demand. Despite the adoration of numerous film critics and bloggers, Israel’s first slasher movie found itself in distribution limbo. However, whilst similar films would have found themselves lost forever in the ether of forgotten cinema, Rabies is finally getting the home entertainment release it deserves thanks to Soda Pictures.
Initially conforming to the traditional horror framework we’ve become so ingrained to expect (a young girl gets caught in a sociopath’s trap in a secluded woodland with her brother bumping into four young pretty innocent socialites whilst searching for help) Rabies orthodox opening soon makes way for a far fresher vision, with the film’s homicidal antagonist fading into the background and letting the chaotic and violent nature of humankind escalate his familiar crime to a whole new zenith of horror.
In Latin, ‘rabies’ translates literally as ‘madness’; something the pretty girls and boys visiting this deserted woodland could never have imagined to encounter. Keshales and Papushado violently break the conventions of the slasher genre, whilst executing all the most successful scare techniques from critically-revered horror films of the last century. The pair revel in misdirection, utilising a bizarre series of suspense-filled events that culminate in a genuine fear of the unknown, rather than a sense of impending doom derived from a generic villain. Traversing the usual shocks its blood-drenched poster would suggest, Rabies has more in common with an intelligent psychological thriller than a gory schlocker.
As is to be expected from a film emanating from a country where violence has been a mainstay of contemporary culture there’s a noticeable sociopolitical subtext behind this subtle balancing act of gore and frights. Thankfully, this nuanced political undertone never overshadows the madness that prevails, acting more as an influential spice than an obligatory ingredient for this melting pot of malevolence and ferocity. So fast does the pendulum of horror swing from style to style that we never have time to acclimatise ourselves, resulting in a heart-pounding level of confusion and fear which subtly edges towards a degree of perverse excitement, leaving us unaware of the nuanced subtext which is gently powering this thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes of intensifying chaos.
More than just another stab-and-grab horror film, Rabies is one of those rare exceptions to the formulaic gorefests that often emanate from the independent horror industry. With the duo currently in New York for the premiere of their latest psychological experiment in filmmaking, Big Bad Wolves (2013), there’s certainly a perverse, yet necessary desire to immerse yourself in this truly unique unapologetic example of ultra-violence.
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