Given the misnomer name (rabies are never mentioned) and over-familiar woodland setting, you may even think all signs point to disaster. Good thing, then, that writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado are masters of misdirection.
Opening with a scene indicative of your average torture-porn – a bloodied woman trapped and later drugged by a deranged cat-person – the rug is quickly pulled from beneath your feet as the filmmakers take an inspired wrong turn into largely unexplored territory. We meet the usual hapless teens, the obligatory bumbling police officers and a forest ranger husband and wife, yet not once do your undoubtedly informed predictions come to pass. To say any more would be to do the innovative and whimsical script a gross disservice, needless to say Yaron Motola’s “killer” may be the most incompetent yet.
Like an earnest Scream, a softly-spoken The Cottage or a ruthlessly efficient Severence, Rabies is less a horror than a gore-soaked comedy. If this particular tonal balance is one of the hardest in cinema to achieve – Black Sheep anyone? – you wouldn’t know it thanks to the assuredly effortless direction and enthused performances that make Rabies what it is: a darkly comic joy. At times hilarious, at times uncomfortable, but always relentlessly engaging, the movie is such a constellation of memorable characters, moments and dialogue that you can’t help believe it to be the result of some serendipitous planetary alignment.
It is difficult to single out a particularly noteworthy performance (though Ania Bukstein and Danny Geva are both great), so packed is Rabies with capable actors and well-drawn characters. Trying to show that life doesn’t stop just because your being chased through a forest by a flick-knife/stone/axe wielding maniac, each character is wonderfully humanised to frequently juxtaposing and unexpected effect. Considering just how contrived the narrative might have appeared in less confident hands, it is a real joy to note how naturally it ultimately flows.
Beautifully shot, entertainingly written and edited to perfection, Rabies is a wonderfully rare beast: a horror-comedy which makes its mark not with pop-culture references, post-modernism or Simon Pegg, but with a delightfully ridiculous mastery of scare tactics and originality. Utterly brilliant and hugely accomplished, Rabies is – in my opinion – film of the festival so far. The trick now, of course, is to keep Platinum Dunes at bay. Get yourselves to the cinema, I’ve got the first watch.