A few things should happen in a slasher flick. One, somebody should get slashed, preferably in the beginning. Two, the villain should be evil enough that we want him to die, and the protagonists should be likeable enough that we want them to make it out alive.
Kalevet (Rabies) holds the somewhat embarrassing honor of being Israel’s first horror/slasher film — at least the first one that isn’t a documentary, anyway — which is the only reason why, I think, it’s getting international attention. The low-budget, slow-paced production takes place in a booby-trapped, land-mined, killer-stalking nature preserve, where four groups of pointless young people meet their fate. (As if that much free green space in northern Israel would not be swarming with busloads of schoolchildren and picnicking Arab families, but never mind.)
The directors, Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales, have noble intentions: To represent the culture’s lack of interpersonal respect as a blood-spattered forest. But the characters need the motives more. Their shallow, gross relationships (incest? really?) seem well suited to punishment by death. My vote? Bear trap.
Where Rabies succeeds is in imagining the greatest fear as the fear of oneself. In doing so, it completely circumvents the role of the original killer — a neat idea, but one better suited for a psychological thriller. It could be great, but instead Rabies chases its tail and ends up a comedy with enough blood (and some severed fingers and a nasty dislocated jaw) to give Red Cross blood bank workers a day off.
I do see cult potential here. If in 15 years my kids are wearing out our vintage DVD player with Rabies on repeat, I’ll be humbled to say I knew it when. For now, I’ll opt for the vaccine.