FrightFest 2011: Rabies review

★★★★☆
In Latin, the word rabies translates literally as 'madness'; something the pretty girls and boys visiting this deserted woodland could never have imagined. Aharon Keshales' Rabies (Kalevet, 2010) violently breaks all the conventions of the slasher genre whilst simultaneously executing all the most successful scare techniques from every critically-revered horror film of the last century. A brother and sister have headed to a secluded nature reserve to escape those opposed to their unconventional relationship. When the sister falls into a trap, the brother sets out to find help, leading him directly to four young teens.

What materialises after this unfortunate accident is a bizarre series of suspense filled events that create a genuine fear of the unknown rather than a sense of impending doom derived from a generic malevolent villain. Rabies positively revels in misdirection. Opening like torture porn with a young pretty girl trapped within a metal cage, suddenly the rug is pulled from under our feet and we find ourselves thrust into the middle of a physiologically tense thriller. The less than helpful appearance of police does little but add more fuel to the contagious fire of unmitigated madness which appears to be in the air.

So fast does the pendulum of horror swing from style to style that we never have time to acclimatise ourselves, resulting in a heart pounding level of confusion and fear which subtly edges towards a degree of perverse excitement which should surely be illegal. Indeed, this assured mixture of well executed genre conventions with some unique scare techniques (that are so perfectly timed you could set your watch by them) all culminates in a film which never gives you a moment to catch your breath and is all the more enjoyable for it.

The special effects and gore are in perfect balance with the humour and horror which drive the plot forward. There's nothing over the top or outlandish about the way the film plays out, yet the rush of adrenaline caused by the film's frenzied pace never subsides. Rabies' use of unconventional bright colours and subtle twists of comedy helps prevent the uncomfortably framed close ups and audacious use of gratuitous violence from feeling too claustrophobic. The film transfers you into a bizarrely comatose state of being, completely transfixed and unable to turn away, despite the natural desire to do so the moment you realise that mallet isn't going to be used for the purpose it was intended for.

Rabies' lack of any discernible plot and absence of a conceivable explanation as to why all those who enter this seemingly pleasant woodland end up committing the most unequivocal acts of utter madness never distracts from the overall enjoyment of what has to be one of the most strangely unapologetic pieces of ultra violence since A Clockwork Orange (1971). This nihilistic, gutsy film's combination of rich ideas and a cultivated ability to deliver all the scares you desire from a good piece of suspenseful gore is an unconventionally infectious product of a thriving Israeli film industry.

Patrick Gamble

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