A new month… and although your Favorite Catgirl may have been a bit a slacker here at the “ol’ Litterbox” of late, I have indeed finally managed to shake off my annual bout of “Spring Fever” and so I’m back at it again with a look this time out at Israel’s first foray into the realm of the horror film (at least as far as this wee lady has been told….) and a review of the Region 1 release of “Kalevet” aka “Rabies”.
Our quick synopsis goes: “Rabies” relates the story of a brother and sister who run away from home seeking sanctuary in a deserted nature reserve. When his sister falls into the booby-trap of a psychopathic killer roaming those same woods, the brother sets out on a desperate race to find help. In a macabre twist of fate the rescue of his sister soon becomes inexplicably entangled with the lives of a group of young tennis players, a forest ranger, his girlfriend, and his dog, as well as a pair of police officers…. some of whom might just prove to be even more dangerous than the psychopath himself.”
Yeah… yeah… I know. Yours truly reeeeeaally isn’t the biggest fan of slasher genre films… but hey… an honest to goodness Israeli one? Can I really miss out on something as odd as that? I’m thinkin’ not… 😉
So… given that the Israelis are actually smack dab in the middle of what might just be the biggest “reality show” of true life horrific gore and violence most days, it definitely makes you wonder just what sort of spin can their film-makers be expected to give this tired ol’ genre?
Intrigued maybe…? Wanna find out some more? Then just follow this goofy Catgirl and let me tell you all about it…. 😉
So…. we’ve all seen the typical “teen slasher” film. You take a few reasonably presentable young adults… throw in a few stereotypical jocks, nerds, and bimbos to cover all your bases when the “body-count” starts to rise…. and strand them waaaaay out in the boondocks where they can run afoul of any number of stock villain psychos looking to spend a quiet afternoon chasing them around bashing, chopping, slicing, chainsawing and otherwise dismembering our lil’ group till the film’s 90 minute run-time expires. Sigh….. at least I suppose it was original and entertaining waaaay back in the 70’s and 80’s…..
“Kalevet” is definitely the offspring of all those old films, but I’m happy to say that thankfully it has far greater aspirations as a film than just a voyeuristic need to display oodles of gratuitous violence merely for shock value alone. There’s really a different sort of story here…. several actually…. all churning around and occasionally banging together with an almost serendipitous coincidence that makes for fascinating storytelling. Not that the story always makes sense mind you…. but even that oddness ends up being just a part of the train wreck of horrible events that seem unavoidable once the first event occurs.
That first event? Well that would involve Tali (played by Liat Harlev) and her brother Ofer (played by Henry David). When first we see them, poor Tali is stuck in some sort of cunning pit-trap out in the dark woods in the middle of the night. Ofer can’t manage to free her from this most peculiar trap, so he plans to leave her there and go for help. It’s a hard thing for him to to do… as it seems they are “on the run” from their family…. and for a brother and sister they seem…. well…. just a wee bit too darn “close” for siblings. Let’s just say there’s something unsettling going on…. but before you can really dwell on the possibilities of that there’s a muffled bit of fighting… a scream…. and although she can’t see what happened, poor Tali knows her chances of getting out of that hole alive just dropped significantly.
Then… dawn rolls in, and we meet Forest Warden Menashe (played by Menashe Noy), his wife, and his loyal German Shepard. They’ve showed up to do some sort of “forest survey” of the area…. and after a bit of sweet romantic repartee they spit up to do their jobs, linking together by walkie-talkie. Menashe is a good guy. Maybe a little past his prime, maybe not the smartest pencil in the box, but a good guy just doing his level best to do his job with a measure of professional pride… and in any other slasher film, would automatically get the role of “stalwart hero” who will get to show what a stand-up guy he is by saving our film’s main heroine from the nasty ol’ psycho. So… naturally… guess who he runs across carrying the unconscious Tali through the woods?
Yep… our film’s resident serial killer… “The Man in Overalls” (played by Yaron Motola). So what exactly is our crazy killer’s motivation? Heck… I watched the entire movie and this wee Catgirl still hasn’t got a clue…. and I’m pretty certain even “Overalls man” doesn’t know either. But guess what? I’m thinking that’s exactly the point…
“Kalevet” certainly likes to make you wonder about stuff like this. What is our killer’s raison d’être? He’s not just wandering around the woods randomly trapping people is he? I mean, that sounds kinda silly…. Ahhhhhh, and what’s with the whole creepy “incest vibe” coming from Tali and Ofer throughout the whole film? They never really say that’s what’s going on, but these two siblings certainly act reeeeaaaaly tooo darn close for this wee Catgirl’s comfort. And these are only the first nagging questions that a viewer will find themselves obsessed with as our film’s series of vignettes continue to collide in random maddening ways….
Anyway…. our “Everyman Hero” Menashe handily manages to save Tali by taking our psycho killer out with his trusty tranquilizer rifle. Not before managing to shoot Tali with one too of course….. d’ohhh!!….. Then he quickly carries her away in search of his wife, leaving our killer snoozing away by his lonesome like a babe in the woods. Next…. as all this unwinds, we skip out to the lonely road that traverses the forest and meet with our prerequisite car load of young adults on their way to a college tennis match. Two young girls, Adi (played by Ania Bukstien), Shir (played by Yael Grobglas) and their two boyfriends Mikey (played by Ran Danker), and Pini (played by Ofer Shechter). It’s pretty obvious our film’s real heroine is going to end up being level headed Adi…. sexy, smart, and capable. The kind of girl you just know has her own inner “warrior princess” just waiting to be unleashed when her friends are threatened. But just remember….. “Kalevet” is all about messing with your expectations…. 😉
They do all that character establishing chatter you might expect before a bloody and disheveled Ofer stumbles out onto the road and promptly gets nearly killed as they run into him and nearly put him through the windshield. Ofer’s alive? Yep…. seems our killer only stabbed him in the gut and left him for dead before overpowering Tali and carrying her away. Ofer’s desperately looking for help…. and of course our lil’ group decides to do the standard goofy “split the party” tactic, with a somewhat suspicious Mikey and Pini following Ofer back to look for Tali while the girls stay at the car to call the police on their cellphone for help. The police? Yeah…. that ought to be the proper thing to do, right?
Ummmm? Well it would be, except that the nearest cops are not exactly the Israeli Police’s A-Team…. not even close. Instead we get two highway patrol officers in a squad car named Danny (played by Lior Ashkenazi) and Yuval (played by Danny Geva), and things immediately go from bad to worse when we find that Yuval is one of those creepy bastards that gets off on using his badge to give him the excuse to abuse and humiliate women with seeming impunity. His partner? He’s too darn busy on his phone trying to patch things up with his girlfriend after some stupid fight they’ve had that morning to keep an eye on his partner or keep his excesses in check. Oh yeah…. this is gonna get bad fast for Adi and Shir…..
Yuval accuses the girls of being up to something and then uses the pretext of a frisk to grope and molest poor Shir in ways that made me sooooo darn angry I was seething with a need to see him get his just deserts. Spunky Adi manages to get his pistol away from him and it isn’t too darn long before the two girls are in an armed standoff with our two cops that you know just can’t end well. One shot off finger later and our two girls are on the run while a wounded Yuval goes nuts, handcuffing his reluctant partner to the steering wheel of the cruiser so he can chase them down and “take care of things”. Crap… you just know that won’t end well….. no indeed.
So… is it just that there is something in the air making people all crazy? Who knows…. there isn’t any hint of any real rabies outbreak at work here despite our title and basically, I’m thinking the whole idea herein is that crazy homicidal notions can just sort of sneak up on even the most seemingly normal individual making that most insane of choices seem like perfect sense, even if just for a single moment. There’s a very real line in the sand, and if you aren’t careful, our film tells us, it’s really easy to stray beyond it into some fairly dangerous territory from which the way back is sometimes impossible.
What sort of poor “momentary lapses of common sense” are we talking about? Well…. Adi’s shooting of a police officer, even a crooked one, is a good example. But… in rapid succession, we also get to see the result of an unexpected flare of jealousy between Mikey and Pini over the affections of Shir that starts out as a stupid and macho argument between best buds but ends with the gruesome murder of Mikey. Or then there’s Ofer’s chance discovery of Menashe with the unconscious and bound up Tali that ends with the brutal revenge killing of our good Samaritan, mistaken for the villain of the story. Yep… expect things to turn out well in “Kalevet” and you are going to be disappointed.
At this point, it’s “Spoiler Alert” time…. as Neko certainly doesn’t want to ruin things for you if you’re getting interested in giving “Kalevet” a look see for yourself.
So will our heroine Adi manage to extricate herself and Shir from their terrible predicament and reunited with beaten up and guilt ridden Pini to make an escape from all this madness and death? Well…. let’s just say she does manage to put an end to nasty Yuval… but only to then meet her own surprising end by dragging his corpse over the top of a long forgotten land mine. “BOOOOOMMM!!!” So much for spunky Adi…. and Neko really had taken a shine to her too…. 😦
What? You mean State Parks in your country aren’t loaded with fields of left-over land mines? Why, lucky you…. 😉
At this point, things speed up, with traumatized Shir stumbling back to the road for a deadly encounter with Danny the cop. He tries to talk calmly to her and fix things, only to get shot full of holes and forced to run her down with the police cruiser. Bleeding and dying, he finally gets that call from his girlfriend…. but it’s too late… he’s already left that one too many nasty angry messages on her answering machine, so now all he can do is drive off to race home and erase them with his last gasps of life, leaving Shir dead in the road. Ofer and Tali? Well… the land mine explosion started a forest fire, and even though they are safe and reunited, Ofer finally succumbs to his horrible stomach wound while Tali burns to death by his side, unwilling to leave him to save herself. Wow…. so does anyone actually survive this?
Ahhhh… well in what has to be the most sureal moment of the film, Pini, beaten, bloody and looking more like a psycho killer than our “Man in Overalls” ever manages to do, finds his way back to the road where he encounters a lost family in their car that inexplicably allow him to ride along back to town seemingly oblivious to his condition. The “Man in Overalls” himself? Yep… after his refreshing nap in the woods, he wakes up and leaves the forest too, hitchhiking his way off into the sunset as our credits roll and we, the audience, are left to go; “….WTF?”
It’s a strange end for a film…. with an unapologetic lack of any real understanding of what the heck was, in some cases, actually going on, but surprisingly…. at least for me…. it was an oddly satisfying one. “Kalevet” is just that sort of film…. more something to simply experience and think about than to have served up with all the elements laid out and neatly explained. I can honestly say I ended up liking it a lot, with it’s very dry and quirky black humor and “no-holds-barred” overkill of deadly coincidence gone beyond the bounds of belief. I give it 4 well earned “Meows” out of 5 and will definitely keep my eyes open for more of directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushadu’s work in the future.
Our Region 1 DVD is well done, in wide-screen NTSC with the original Hebrew language track and perfect English subtitles are on board, unlike the original Region 2 Israeli release. It’s floating around most places for around 12-19$ US and is definitely worth a look for those of you as nutty for foreign horror as this wee lady.
Trailer? Yep…. as always there’s a nifty Trailer available, and here it goes!