Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tribeca ’11: Rabies

A country surrounded by homicidal maniacs probably does not have much need for horror movies. Perhaps that is why it took over sixty years for the Israeli film industry to produce its first slasher film. It was worth the wait. Considerably more inventive than the genre standard, Navot Papushado and Aharon Kashales’ Rabies (trailer here) is a highlight of the Cinemania (formerly Midnight) selections at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

A funny thing happened on the way to the tennis match. A car thick with sexual tension breaks down in a secluded forest. All three of Shir’s teammates (two guys and a girl, Adi) seem have a thing for her. Their lingering jealousies and resentments continue roiling below the surface, but the quartet face more pressing problems, like the twitchy dude they find covered in blood.

Ofer and his sister Tali were running away from home for scandalous reasons implied but never outright stated when she fell into a Hannibal Lecter-worthy mantrap. Obviously, this was no hunting accident. Having the drop on Ofer, the psycho responsible bloodies him up good, but not good enough. Waking in the morning, Ofer starts tearing through the forest in search of his dear sister, running straight into the four lost tennis players.

Unfortunately, when they call the cops, no good deed goes unpublished. Emasculated and humiliated by his presumably ex-girlfriend, Danny is sort of the good cop. Yuval on the other hand, is definitely the bad cop. A raging misogynist with simmering class resentments and well documented anger management issues, his only interest is in sexually harassing Shir. With the guys off wandering through the forest with Ofer, Adi goes Thelma & Louise on the creepy copper. Things get bloody from there.

Though billed as a slasher movie, Rabies is almost more closely akin to the Final Departure series. While not as Rube Goldbergian, Papushado and Kashales create a twisted environment (including a poorly marked minefield), where murder and mayhem inexorably result from the diabolical events they set in motion. Yes, there definitely is a psycho killer out there, but he disappears for long stretches of time.

Rabies is quite tightly executed (so to speak), relying on slam-bang timing to keep the one-darned-thing-after-another bedlam proceeding in an orderly fashion. Though mostly played for bloody thrills, Papushado and Kashales also occasionally throw in sardonic one-liners worthy of the Scream franchise.

At least one consistently redeeming character can be found in these woods: Menashe, a poor luckless park ranger played with everyman likability by Menashe Noy. In contrast, Ania Bukstein is a dynamic presence as the assertive Adi, while Yael Grobglas is appropriately decorative as Shir. Following up his smartly understated turn in Restoration, Henry David is again quite compelling as Ofer, arguably the film’s most anguished and complicated character.

Considering how many anti-Israeli Israeli films are picked up for American distribution, it is a pleasure to such a resolutely nonpolitical representative of the nation’s film industry. A nifty little blood-spattered psycho thriller, Rabies is consistently entertaining. Recommended for hardcore and casual genre enthusiasts alike, it screens tomorrow (4/21), Wednesday (4/27), Thursday (4/28), and Friday (4/29), with select internet viewing opportunities available (free, but reservations are required) as part of the festival’s online component.