Without spoiling a thing, “Rabies” takes place almost entirely in a trap-laden forest currently populated by the following characters:
• a young woman caught in a hole, and her brother who desperately tries to get her out;
• a loving couple of forestry rangers and their beloved German shepherd;
• four young tennis players — two guys, two girls — who have taken a wrong turn en route to a match;
• a pair of policemen who personify the “good cop, bad cop” routine; and
• one psychotic killer.
Their paths zig and zag, collide and intersect, in a manner reminiscent of Doug Liman’s “Go,” both in force of energy and bleakly comic scenarios. “Rabies” is being billed as Israel’s first horror slasher, but the blood aside, it struck me as a pure thriller. There’s nothing remotely scary about it, but many scenes have suspense to burn. It’s too smart and too funny to be classified as kin to Jason Voorhees — besides, to do so is just incorrect.
And yet, I’m going to let debuting writer/directors Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales call it what they want. If this is their country’s first attempt in the genre, they’ve set the bar mighty high for their fellow filmmakers. If not, their work remains a gem of pleasant (and sometimes purposely unpleasant) surprise. —Rod Lott