10/7 - Billed as the first horror-slasher flick out of Israel, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado's Rabies may be one of the great sleeper films of the festival, and one that may even interest those who aren't fans of horror. That doesn't mean you're not going to squeal and jump and maybe spit some coke through your nose, because Rabies employs some incredibly effective horror technique that doesn't play as a tired re-tread, but, in nearly every instance, had the Friday night audience jumping out of their seats.
The beauty of Rabies is that it introduces itself unapologetic-ally as a classic slasher film homage, which, at least for me, is not an interesting proposition, given where we've been over the last decade with constant re-treads and reboots of horror franchises, but Rabies then manages to stay afloat through it's first act due to the quality of it's performances and genuine humor. From there, the film transforms, almost imperceptibly, into something that transcends the trappings of the slasher/killer-on-the-loose genre. Also, as you might imagine, the cultural roots of the film are important to how we read all of this, particularly because the film adheres so faithfully to American genre conventions throughout it's first third: a killer in the woods, a young girl trapped in a deadly chamber, a pair of goofy, shady cops, a carload of tennis playing, horny teens who have to pull off the beaten path to take a leak...we've seen it all before. But, eventually the film makes moves that highlight it's specific cultural identity in some interesting ways--for example, contrasting the Straw Dogs-esque device of the bear trap with a similar scene involving a land mine. Both of the scenes involving these devices are equally, gleefully cringe inducing...but one of them significantly re-frames the film culturally from that point on.
Usually I don't worry too much about "spoiling" on ECSTATIC, but with Rabies I will just say that the traditional trajectory of the horror film gets subverted in some very effective ways; sometimes a bit disturbing, often very funny. And, I don't want to give the impression that the film has a "who-done-it?" structure; Rabies spoils that aspect for itself as the face of the "killer-on-the-loose" is revealed very early on, in rather unceremonious fashion. Ultimately, Rabies reads to me as a pretty potent political film, using the question of "Who is the real killer?" to reflect back on the violence of the country from which it was born. It does this with gory, and sometimes perverse, abandon, but I think there is an intelligent wink behind this film that saves it from the frequent vulgarity and misogyny of so much current horror. I think Rabies has bigger goals in regards to what it wants to provoke in it's audiences, and even though it is really good at providing scares it may also stick with you as one of the most effective pieces of social commentary at the fest.
Up next: Southwest