The conversation at the video store went something like this:
Video Store lady: "What about Martha Marcy May Marlene?"
Me: "Already saw it."
Her: "Hmmm...My Week with Marilyn?"
Me: "Saw that, too. I didn't like it, though Michelle Williams was awesome."
Me: "I don't do Lars von Trier movies."
Her: "You're into horror movies, right?"
Me (unsure of where this is going): "Um...yeesss..."
Her: "What about Rabies? That's that Israeli horror movie."
Me: "Israeli horror movie? Sold, American!"
It's hard to recommend films to me. I'm sure other hardcore movie freaks are the same way. Most of the time, when asked if I'm looking for anything in particular, I'll usually say "Just looking, thanks." This time, though, I actually appreciated the heads up. Rabies (2010, directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado) is indeed an Israeli horror movie, though it's one that could use a better international title. Rabid animals and rabid humans do not appear in this film, much less rabid zombies or even rabid grannies. There's no frothing at the mouth whatsoever. So much for truth in advertising. In any case, when recommending movies for me to watch, novelty matters. I've never seen an Israeli horror movie before. I didn't even know they made them.
If the title of the movie is bait and switch, at least Rabies has a psycho. It has college kids wandering around in the woods. Mix well and you get mayhem. It's not until you get near the end of the movie that you realize that those elements are an elaborate put-on. This plays its hand well when it gets to the endgame. The first hour or so, though, are all over the place.
In addition to the film's psycho, there are four groups of people out in the woods. There's Ofer and Tali, who begin the movie in dire straits, with Tali stuck in a trap set by our psycho. There's Menashe and Rona, who are doing a conservation study. There's Adi, Shir, Mikey, and Pini, four college students on their way to a tennis match, all wearing nice white outfits as if they're begging to have blood splattered all over them. And there's Yuval and Danny, the cops called by our college kids when they first find something amiss. Within these groupings are various simmering rivalries that in another movie would form the texture of the characters. In this movie, they're plot points. Danny the Cop, for instance, is a misogynist asshole who uses his position as a cop to molest Shir. Mikey and Pini are both hot for Adi, which drives a wedge between them. Ofer and Tali mistake Menashe for the killer. The killer, for his part, spends most of the movie knocked out with a tranquilizer dart, shot into him by Menashe. In fact, he doesn't actually kill anyone in the movie, except for Menashe's dog.
That isn't to say that nobody dies, though. Not at all. There are bodies aplenty in this sucker. That's the joke. Much like the dumb kids in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, the people in this movie do a fine job of wiping each other out, no psycho killer required. This is played considerably straighter, though. The deaths in this movie haven't even a whiff of slapstick about them. A gore hound is going to dig this. In order to set all of this up, though, the movie meanders and contrives and otherwise wastes a lot of time without indicating where the whole thing is going. Whether the payoff is worth the set-up is the central question with this movie. For myself, I was pretty happy with it by the last two jokes, both of which are pretty funny, so it's a conditional success. The last part of the film didn't erase the memory of the first part, though, and that makes it a conditional failure, too. As always, your mileage may vary.
I was tempted to write that there's not any effective difference between this film and a similar film from America, but I stopped short. There's one key difference between this and an American equivalent: Israel has been a war zone off and on for the last sixty years, and it provides the film with a literal minefield in which to set its bloodletting. Beyond that, snotty rich kids are the same the world over, it seems.
I don't normally write about DVDs. I prefer to write about movies. Not only that, but having grown up with crappy Nth generation dubs and bootlegs of movies I've wanted to see, to say nothing of mutilated late-nite TV prints without number, that presentation doesn't usually phase me. I'm kind of inured to it. The Image disc for this movie, though, is so cruddy that I have to say something about it. I've never seen a transfer that suffered so much from combing than this disc. I mean, that shit wasn't acceptable in 2002, it's definitely not acceptable ten years later. Also, the disc has two non-skippable trailers at the beginning. I kind of liked the trailers. I'm sure the movies involved suck, but the trailers had an agreeable direct to video in 1990 feeling to them. Once the disc defaults to its title menu, however, there's no way to access either of these trailers again. Was Image always a bottom-feeder in this regard? I don't keep careful enough tabs on DVD vendors to tell.