Tribeca Review: Rabies, A Somewhat Successful Horror-Comedy Mash-up

When we get slasher flick after slasher flick, it becomes increasingly difficult to make one stand out. Then, on the other hand, stepping out of trite territory and trying to do something different isn’t easy either. In the case of Rabies, we get something that attempts to spice up the genre with comedy; certainly a noble effort, but in the end, it’s that dare-to-be-different attitude that tarnishes it a bit. Is it a horror film or is it a comedy? It tries to be both but doesn’t quite hit the mark with either.

Rabies is ultimately a day in the woods gone horribly wrong. There’s the brother-sister duo, Ofer and Rona (Henry David and Efrat Boimold). Rona falls into a serial killer’s trap and Ofer is the only one who knows where she is. Unfortunately for him, while looking for help, he winds up getting hit by a car packing four young tennis players. Of the group, the guys, Mikey and Pini (Ran Danker and Ofer Shecter), volunteer to trek back into the forest with Ofer to rescue his sister while the ladies, Adi and Shir (Ania Bukstein and Yael Grobglas), stay behind to wait for help.

When the police finally come, they wind up doing more harm than good. One officer, Yuval (Danny Geva), is a disgusting jerk who takes it upon himself to search the mini-skirt clad girls. His partner, Danny (Lior Ashkenazi), is well aware of Yuval’s tendency to cause trouble, but he’s often distracted by his own relationship troubles giving Yuval the opportunity to go about his business however he pleases. Meanwhile the serial killer is on the loose, but a friendly forest ranger, Mensahe (Mensahe Noy), foils his plan.

Seems like a lot to digest, right? Well, it is, but it also serves the purpose of the film. Rabies isn’t a straight up horror film nor is it a conventional comedy, rather a bizarrely unique combination. First time filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado take all of the basic genre clichés, push them to the extreme and back them all with a comedic undertone. Does it work? Yes and no.

The comedy of the film is almost totally reliant on dialogue and when that isn’t all that funny, the comedy is lost leaving you with what seems to be a standard horror film. Keshales and Papushado certainly packed their script with some fairly witty chatter, but the lulls nearly sink the concept. In some instances, it’s just too hard to tell whether this is a flat out bad horror film or something that’s actually trying to make fun of itself. Even worse, most of these issues come up in the earlier portions of the film making it difficult to get on-board until you’re well into the story.

However, even then, Rabies suffers from some major tonal issues. For instance, the scene during which Yuval enjoys some inappropriate touching time is so serious it’s on par with the 2009 version of Last House on the Left. Rather than use the camera to show the humor, the filmmakers leave the lens on the victim’s face and Grobglas is just so good at evoking how uncomfortable her character is, that it’s bound to make the audience squeamish.

On the other hand, there are quite a few bits where Keshlaes and Papushado really nail what they seem to be going for. There are some fantastic stalking shots in the woods, the best of which involves a rock-clutching Pini on the prowl. In terms of the kills, it’s the quicker ones that are appropriately absurd, the ones that catch you completely of guard.

The pacing is great, the performances quite good and the cinematography noteworthy; the killer in Rabies is just the tonal troubles. It’s quite difficult to figure out exactly what type of movie this film wants to be and when you finally do get a grasp on it, you’ve done so in time to enjoy a few last ditch efforts at evoking a laugh, but not soon enough to appreciate the film in its entirety. Keshales and Papushado show that they’ve got the ability to make an enthralling film, they just don’t quite seem to understand the necessity of setting a tone and sticking with it. These are two talented filmmakers with a lot to offer, but in terms of their first feature, a second viewing will likely be necessary in order to really appreciate what they’ve accomplished. That begs the question, after having seen Rabies once will you even want to sit down to go through it again? Without a doubt.

Perri Nemiroff

Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.