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Tribeca 2011: “Rabies,” Reviewed

Tribeca 2011: “Rabies,” Reviewed (photo)

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It can be a lot of fun to see American popular culture refracted through the prism of another country. “Rabies,” is the first Israeli movie made in that quintessential American genre, the slasher film. And it does feature many of the slasher cliches we’ve come to know and love: the dog that wanders off too far into the forrest, the killer who can magically sneak up people without making a sound, the car full of nubile hotties that gets lost in the woods. But what starts as a rather typical slasher film with Israeli accents eventually reveals itself to be something a bit more complicated. “Rabies” has a point beyond exploitation, I’m just not sure I agree with it. Or maybe what I really disagree with is the way that point is made.

We’ll get to that in a second. First, the plot, which, to my disappointment, does not contain any actual rabies. Mostly it’s about several groups of people who wander into the woods of an Israeli “fox preserve” where they encounter a jumpsuit-wearing, animal trap laying serial killer and each other. There’s the brother (David Henry) trying to find someone to help him free his sister (Liat Har Lev), a park ranger (Menashe Noy), his girlfriend, and their dog, the lost hotties (Ania Bukstein and Yael Grobglas), and the two cops (Lior Ashkenazi and Danny Geva) who are called in to find them. You know how this movie goes: people head off into the woods alone when they shouldn’t, then get picked off one by one until the last virginal woman is left alive to defeat the evil.

But that’s not how things turn out this time. Writer/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado have assembled all these genre elements only to deconstruct them. The real menace here isn’t some crazy guy with the knife and some bear traps, but the regular people who, angry and scared and confused, lash out at those around them. In “Rabies,” civilization is fragile, and ordinary people are just as prone to violence — or to tacitly condone it — as psychopaths. Keshales and Papushado’s faith in humanity is nonexistent and their worldview is bleak. Given the events in Israel in the last two decades, maybe that’s not too surprising.

So “Rabies” should be an intense and personal film. But the events in it and the choices the characters make are so consistently absurd that they undermines “Rabies”‘ entire argument. Keshales and Papushado’s concept is rooted in the idea that normal people are capable of unimaginable evil, but no one in this movie acts like a normal person: everyone is depraved and deranged and even the relatively lucid ones in the bunch snap easier than a twig in an ice storm.

I will give you one example. Almost the entire movie takes place in this fox preserve. After order has begun to break down, two of the girls from the lost car are running for their lives from other characters. They stop to rest and notice a fallen sign warning them to beware of landmines. Which, of course, creates great tension in any scene with the girls because we keep waiting for one of them to step on a mine. Fine, it is a horror movie, and the constant threat of death by sudden explosion definitely qualifies as horror in my book. But wait: why are there mines in a fox preserve? We know there’s a serial killer setting up all kinds of traps in this place, so maybe he put them there? But if a serial killer was putting mines around to kill people and get his jollies, why would he put up a sign warning people about them? Bloodthirsty and conscientious. What a guy.

Keshales and Papushado do a nice job juggling a large cast and numerous parallel threads of action, but too many dumb convenient plot devices sully their central conceit. In order to arrive at their chosen ending, one improbable event after another has to happen exactly right until the chain of coincidence and misunderstanding transforms the entire film into one enormous Idiot Plot. All of that strains credulity in a movie that is all about arguing that the real world — not the one populated by the fantastical psycho killers of popular culture — is the place we need to fear. The parable could probably only have come from foreign filmmakers. But the goofy, nonsensical narrative is as American as they come.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.