Thursday, 5 January 2017

Film Review - 'Rabies'

Going in knowing that Rabies was, apparently, the very first feature-length horror/thriller film to be made in Israel, it would be fair to say that I was definitely curious. Sure, the film could have, very easily, turned out to be an amateurish effort, that I would have been better off avoiding - but, there was also the potential that it could offer an interesting new take on a somewhat worn out, and often cliche-ridden, genre. At the very least, the fact that the film is set in Israel should be enough to give it a suitably different tone.

It all starts off in fairly familiar territory, though. As the film opens, we are introduced to an attractive young woman who seems to have fallen into complicated pit trap, set up for unknown (though, undoubtedly sinister) reasons. Her brother, similarly young and attractive (in the grand tradition of this sort of film) finds her, but is unable to free her - and so, reluctantly, he sets off in search of help.

He soon meets with a group of (similarly young and attractive) friends who have managed to get themselves lost, on their way to a nearby country club. They country to help, however reluctantly - and, the young men set off into the woods, while the young women stay with the car to try to get in contact with the police.

While the group begin to make their way back to the pit, though, a mysterious figure also moves through the woods - checking on his traps, and claiming his prize. The young woman finds herself bound and gagged, and carried away to an unknown (though, undoubtedly grim) fate.

But, these aren't the only people in these particular woods, though. A park ranger, conducting a survey of the surrounding area, also manages to get himself involved when he catches sight of the mysterious figure carrying what is, unmistakably, a young woman. And, this is where the film begins to take an unexpected turn. Armed with a rifle, and a supply of tranquiliser darts, the ranger takes of a couple of shots at the distant figure - managing to hit both the man and the woman he carries. Left stunned, the killer can do little more than dump the young woman as he stumbles off into the woods - and, the ranger sets about recovering the young woman as he, too, sets off in search of help.

The ranger, of course, has no way of knowing that there is already a group of young men desperately searching for the young woman in his care - just as they have no way of knowing that she has already been rescued. Meanwhile, just to complicate things further, when the police do finally arrive, the other young women left by the car find that they, too, may be in danger.

And, of course, all of this takes place in what is, essentially, the film's opening act. From that point on, Rabies becomes increasingly tense and chaotic - as suspicions and misunderstandings lead, almost inevitably, to acts of horrific violence. So much of the violence that takes place in this film does, in fact, feel entirely pointless and unnecessary - but, then, all of that is clearly by design. That mysterious figure may have been the catalyst that sets everything that happens into motion - but, having him be taken out of the picture so early, and so unexpectedly, isn't enough to prevent the gradual descent into complete chaos. Even the environment in which the cast finds themselves seems to get in on the act - when characters find that they seem to have stumbled into a mine-field (this is Israel, remember).

Rabies is a film which, by its creator's own admission, was intended to provide something of a microcosm for the various ways in which violence and conflict have torn apart his own country - and, as strange as it may sound to to consider a 'slasher' film attempting to provide any sort of social commentary, the film also does a surprisingly good job of getting its point across. By the end, relationships are torn apart as people lash out at threats both real and imagined, people die, and there is never any real effort made to justify, or explain, any of it. Even in that all too rare instance in which a death may actually be deserved, it is still treated as something tragic and unnecessary.

Sure, the characters that we meet, throughout the film, never really feel like well-rounded or well-developed individuals (more often than not, feeling like the same sort of bland stereotypes that we so often seem to meet in these sorts of films) - but, the cast are still able to play there parts well enough to get the point across. Also, the woodland setting (complete with its inconvenient mine-field) proves to be a very effective setting - and, it is put to good use throughout the film.

In the end, though, the most impressive thing about Rabies remains the way in which it attempts to subvert the standard tropes of your typical 'slasher' film, as it strives to be something a little more interesting. As the film's title suggests (both its English title, and its original Hebrew one), there is an element of metaphor in the violence that takes place throughout the film - with it being treated almost like a disease that is capable of infecting anyone, at any time. We definitely see quite a bit of evidence of that, too - as the roles of 'victim' and 'perpetrator' seems to shift and flow, from one scene to another. It's something that could have, very easily, felt heavy-handed - but, coming from a country that actually has experienced more than its fair share of conflict, it feels appropriate.

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