23 February, 2012

AJFF: "Rabies" (*****)

Ofer Shechter, Yael Grobglas, Ran Danker and Ania Bukstein star in "Rabies"

Marketing "Rabies" as Israel's first horror film is a smart move, although labeling a film as 'horror' usually limits the public's perception. "Rabies" is a horror film, perhaps the best I've ever seen; but it must not be exclusively labeled as such. The genre is full of copycat films, flash-in-the-pan trends, remakes and movies made for sheer shock value. This film is simply too good to be counted as just another one of those. An instantaneous cult classic, "Rabies" is the first narrative feature I've had the pleasure of awarding a five-star rating.

Watching "Rabies" is such an intense experience, I promise your stomach will be in knots from moment one. There is one point in the film where it will jump so high, it will untangle itself completely before re-tangling even worse. I say all of this with the utmost appreciation. As if the content wasn't enough to keep you on edge, some really crisp and complex camerawork puts you right inside the forest and watching your own back.

I don't want to say too much about the plot, because the less you know, the better time you'll have. Basically, several people are wandering through a forested fox reserve in Israel. Consisting of a group of four young tennis players, a brother and sister, two cops responding to a distressed caller, a park ranger and a mysterious loner; trouble is finding everyone. The whole cast is ridiculously good-looking, which helps to solidify the fact that Israel might be the most attractive country on the planet. While they are also some of Israel's biggest movie stars, they aren't just pretty faces. As Professor Matthew Bernstein of Emory University pointed out when he introduced the film, there is some very complex actor choreography throughout the film.

Writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado accomplished fantastic visuals on a skeleton budget. Not only did they know how to get the best out of their on-screen talent, they knew how to get the most out of their cameras. A killer (the most appropriate word) screenplay, chock full of sharp dialogue and thrilling sequences, makes sure the audience knows not to expect what they want so badly to expect. There is plenty of 'getting what they deserve' to go around, especially evident with Lior Ashkenazi, the heart of the film. He is the only character you truly sympathize with the entire film and he receives the most tender moments in return.

Yaron Motola stars in "Rabies"

In regards to the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, "Rabies" is a surefire contender for the Audience Prize. This sounds like a strange statement, seeing as the general crowd for the fest falls into an older demographic that would definitely not go for a film such as this. Festival organizers were wise to attach this film to their Young Professionals night and showcase the film in late screenings at a variety of venues. Tickets didn't sell like many other films, but everyone that was there knew what they were there for and ended up loving it. A smaller number of voters means less naysayers. I don't know if it will win, but I think it probably should.

"Rabies" will come to American cinemas soon and if they can manage to garner decent level of promotion, excellent word of mouth should make it a slow burning hit. Hopefully, no American remake will ever see the light of day (though it would be only out of respect for the original). Even if it doesn't manage to dent the box office here, it is already a deserving cult hit and one of the freshest films I've seen in years.

5 out of 5 stars.

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