Rabies (Kalevet) (2010)

Rabies (Kalevet) first published as part of my FrightFest 2011 coverage for Little White Lies.

“What kind of psychopath builds a trap you can’t open?” asks Ofer (Henry David) at the beginning of Rabies, after Tali (Liat Harley) has stumbled into a lockless chamber dug into the earth. There are woods, young lovers a-camping, nocturnal darkness, and a man-trap – but just when all the familiar pieces seem to be in place for Israel’s first slasher film, debuting writer/directors Arahon Keshales and Navot Papushado subvert our every expectation of the genre.

From now on, the action will take place in unforgiving daylight, and the killer on the loose will become all but forgotten as Ofer and Tali, a park ranger and his girlfriend, a quartet of young tennis players and a pair of misbehaving cops all cross paths and generate their own, no less deadly kind of psychosis.

The original title, Kalevet, is the Hebrew term not only for the disease rabies, but also more colloquially for anything bad – and this is indeed a film where very bad things happen, whether as a result of gross misunderstanding, ingrained attitudes or just a chaotic chain of cause and effect. It is the sort of clusterfuck that you might find in a Coen brothers’ caper, except that here the location – a nature reserve which occupies no more than an inch on the map, and yet in whose combination of recreation areas and literal minefields all the characters become very lost – admits all manner of allegorical observations about the state of contemporary Israel.

For in this forest of the damned we see the different players tragically undone by their incestuous passions, jealous hatreds, disproportionate revenge, blinkered scapegoating and machismo-driven misogyny – as well as by guns, explosives, sledgehammers, even rocks. “Country full of shits” is the film’s concluding line (although it would be a spoiler too far to reveal just who utters it). Rabies is, in the end, a very dark (if brightly lit) comedy of errors and madness, full of tensions that, though certainly thrilling in themselves, also reflect a nation’s complex social and political landscape, where the twinned senses of entitlement and entrapment have produced a treacherous environment best trodden very carefully.

Do not be put off by this film’s relegation to the Discovery Programme (presumably explained by the fact that it has already screened earlier in 2011 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival) – Rabies is without question one of the top picks of this year’s FrightFest, and such was the popular demand for it that an unprecedented third screening was arranged for the Festival’s final day.

© Anton Bitel