Sauna), Rabies is the production of a country from which I've never seen any cinema, let alone horror. And, interestingly, they both take place entirely within a forest, despite the Finnish film being set in the 16th century and this one being set in, presumably, modern day. Luckily this film is completely different from Sauna, and, in fact, this film--the first ever horror movie out of Israel--gave me an immediate respect for the filmmakers. Their thorough understanding of the genre is apparent, and with this knowledge of horror conventions, the filmmakers deliver what I saw to be the film's biggest strength: its bending of the rules.
Splitting the movie into thirds (acts if you prefer), my interest peaked during the first act, drifted during the second, and then sparked again in the third. (Picture a parabola effect on a chart where the x-axis represents movie duration and the y-axis represents interest.) The movie had a strong opening, but the middle portion seemed aimless and chaotic (in terms of plot). In the end, though, I realized what this film was about. And perhaps this experience is the result of my rule of not reading anything about the movie, including the terse synopses on the Netflix envelopes. Because it says right there on the slip, "But what happens next is hardly the familiar horror formula you might expect." Had I read this, I probably wouldn't have begun to write the film off as clunky, halfway through. Then again, having not read this I don't think I would've enjoyed the closing act as much. For it was in the end that all my questions (chief among which was what is the purpose of this film?) were answered and I was satisfied with my experience.
The movie is really well shot, aside from a few ultra shaky moments that made my head swim--I don't care what the favorable argument is, the shaky cam distracts me from the intended tension-building, because I'm trying to keep my eyes straight and not throw up! Speaking of tension, the Israelis definitely know how to build cringe-inducing moments, even if they do, in my opinion, cut away too quickly. For example, the bear trap. We've all seen moments like this before: the character mustn't make a false move or something terrible will happen; or the character must choose between one form of pain or another (the Saw franchise). This tactic is always effective for me, and it got me here, too--but I didn't like that the result of the predicament took place off-camera. Another example is the revelation that there are land mines, setting the characters on edge, painstakingly watching their steps, and leaving me, the viewer, on edge, waiting for the inevitable. Thankfully, the inevitable bang is delivered with perfectly timed execution (no pun intended).
Spoiler Alert! Back to the film's biggest strength. I will not overlook the fact that there are what can be considered major plot holes. But whether the loose ends are a problem or not depends on how you look at the film as a composite of characters, scenes, and genre conventions. In the end, the loose ends don't really matter; the largest of which--the plot concerning the killer--is comically (in a good way) intentional. The big secret between the brother and sister: laughable; again, in a good way. And what I believe to be the film's biggest genre convention breaker concerns the Final Character. I was initially put off by all the sexual banter between the four friends, but by the end I realized that the point was to establish who was really the virgin, and thus who lived (unless I missed something).
Equal parts nihilism, absurdism, parody, and black humor, Rabies exceeded my expectations, leaving me impressed with this first horror offering from Israel and eager for more. Full of stock horror plots and characters that are sent spiraling in seemingly aimless directions, the film's antics are sure to please any genre fan. Why it's called Rabies, I couldn't tell you. There is a dog in it, but no one--if memory serves--is ever bitten by the dog; and it isn't clear how the dog would've gotten rabies anyway. What I can say is that this is a film made for a group viewing. Though I watched it by myself and still enjoyed it, I can see having a blast with friends. Plus, it's one of those rare movies that has a great beginning and and a great ending. Definitely worth a watch.