Why don’t Israelis like horror films? I’ve seen horror movies that crowds would line up around the block for in the US playing in nearly empty theaters here. A few thoughts: Obviously, suicide bombings, missiles and wars are much scarier than your average onscreen psycho. But forget all that: Just the price of filling up your car’s gas tank is much more horrifying than a weirdo with a chainsaw, and the pain of it doesn’t disappear when the lights go up. Then there are the soulless bureaucrats that rule, who torture us with cruel, timewasting incompetence: Give me Freddy Krueger any day.
To solve this problem, Israeli filmmakers have tried by making a horror/slasher film that speaks to the locals – Rabies (Kalevet). But sadly, Rabies evokes more giggles than screams.
The directors, Ahron Keshales and Navot Paposhaddo, have tried to shock and awe us, but they’ve ended up with a film that is unintentionally funny, crude and, worst of all, dull. And they’ve embarrassed some of Israel’s best actors in the process.
Although the opening five minutes builds atmosphere nicely, it’s all downhill from there. After a while, I began amusing myself by noting all the horror movie conventions the filmmakers disregarded. Occasionally, when these conventions are put aside, the result is brilliant. But in this case, this contempt for the basics reminds you why these conventions exist in the first place. In fact, Rabies may have a future as a blueprint for what screenwriters and directors should not do.
1. Don’t make a movie where the psycho killer has no personality and disappears halfway through. In a good horror movie, the villain is not only the most interesting character, he (or she) also gets all the best lines. Here, blink and you’ll miss him.
2. The victims should be goodlooking – and they are – but at least some of them need to be vaguely likable. The two tennis players (telenovela heartthrobs Ran Danker and Ofer Shechter) and their mini skirt-clad partners (Ania Bukstein and Yael Grobglas) who get lost in the woods bore us silly with their inane banter. So do two park rangers (Menashe Noy and Efrat Boimold). The cops who should come to the rescue and just make more trouble – a moronic straying husband (Lior Ashkenazi) who wants to win his wife back and a malevolent sexual sadist (Danny Geva) – are two of the most annoying and least convincing characters ever seen on film. The brother and sister seen in the opening, whose disappearance sparks the entire film, are utterly forgettable. In any case, we shouldn’t be rooting for the characters to be killed; but here, they can’t die fast enough. The cute German shepherd is the only appealing character in the film – and you can imagine what happens to her.
3. The plot doesn’t have to make sense, but there should be some suspense. There’s no logic in Rabies. There’s a psycho killer who disappears, and then everyone who stumbles into the forest looking for him starts acting violently and cluelessly. When it’s all random, there’s no tension. And by the way, nobody actually gets rabies.
4. It’s okay to be derivative, but imitate good movies. The Blair Witch Project
wasn’t really that good the first time around. Neither was I Know What You Did Last Summer
and the handful of other mediocre-at-best films this film slavishly recreates.
Some films are released under an unlucky star, and Rabies
is one of these. It all takes place in the woods and hit theaters the
day the tragic fire began in the Carmel Forest. As these actors stumble
around, it’s hard not to think about the loss of this delicate forest
and those who were killed there – a true story that is far more dramatic
and moving than this one.
There is a zombie movie, Another World
set in Israel that is set to be released soon. So when that comes out,
we’ll see if it’s possible to make a good genre movie here. Rabies
should be an easy act to follow.