The first horror movie out of Israel, Rabies feels like a typical slasher with one teensy twist—its baddie is neutralized within the first few minutes. That psychokiller, setting traps in the woods to snag his mortal quarry, is shot with a tranquilizer, and spends the rest of the film asleep on the forest floor. While he naps, more mayhem unfolds than he could have wreaked in his wettest dreams, as his would've-been victims accidentally assume his murderous mantle.
Several groups—randy teens; a campground assessor and his dog; a salacious cop and his sad sack partner; a bloodied brother and his kidnapped sister-lover—cross paths in a mine-ridden timberland, with disastrous results for each: if the booby traps don't get them (bear traps!), their fellow citizens will. Violence, set off by a minor slight—a romantic betrayal, a smart mouth, a mistaken identity—escalates through inordinate retaliation, crafting cycles of violence that go too far because no one will be the one to back down. So everybody ends up dead.
The subtextual implications are glaring. Sure, a real external danger threatens these Israelis, but the immediate threat is each other, and a landscape of their own design, scarred by decades of war. (The film is relentlessly depressing, cruel even, and so mean to its characters that you have to start laughing.) There is no Cujo here—the title is metaphoric, encapsulating the film's frothing mad Israelis hellbent on a brutality so ubiquitous it seems contagious. The last line? A character bemoaning that his country is "full of shits." Take that, Netanyahu.
Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado's Rabies screens tonight at 10 p.m., and again April 27-29. It will also be available on-line. For more information, visit Tribeca's website.