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Fantastic Fest 2011 Final Recap: ‘Rabies,’ ‘A Lonely Place to Die,’ ‘Boys on the Run’ and ‘Sleep Tight’

Posted by , on October 3, 2011 at 8:22 am 

Rabies has nothing to do with the disease most commonly known to effect a particular slathering, angry St. Bernard and others of its kind. However, first-time Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado do infect the myriad characters within their 90 minute horror/thriller hybrid with satisfying results. Little is known going in about the people, and we learn to loathe or like them as the film progresses in real time. There are the requisite damsels in distress, a dirty cop and his side-tracked partner, two friends vying for the same girl, two siblings that are in the wrong place at the wrong time, a maniac without a name or goal, and a park ranger and his girlfriend. Oh, and they have a dog, but he doesn’t have rabies. That’s the character roster, and Keshales and Papushado throw them into the same fox park that provides its own set of surprises.

Whereas so many films with a similar setup may proceed as normal, Rabies loves taking the untrodden path. Instead of having the maniac pursue his victims throughout, the protagonists are more likely to turn on each other. Sometimes it is out of rage, and sometimes it is a case of sadly mistaken identity. Yet it almost always results in feral violence that is thankfully lacking in gore and used more for affecting the audience. At times you will feel apathy for characters because there is little known about them or the writers try too hard to win you over. That ambiguity plays throughout, as very few answers are given but it left me eager to discuss the film afterwards. With such a simple premise and straightforward execution, Rabies doesn’t provide a lot of flashy frills and instead relies on the tension of smartly placed cutaways and the idea of how cruel we can be to each other when pushed.

A Lonely Place to Die shows director Julian Gilbey’s confidence in his characters. While there is gorgeous scenery and thrilling action, everything relies on the antagonists and protagonists within. Five hikers in Scotland come across a girl left in a shelter underground with only a breathing pipe and water. When they rescue her, she turns out to not speak English or any language they recognize. And she’s gone feral at this point. When it dawns on them that she wasn’t left to die, and that someone will be back to recover her, they take off. When the bad guys show up and find the girl missing, they go homicidal, leaving a bloody wake in their trail.

Julian co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Will and they stuff in some amazing rock-climbing sequences in the outset. As the chase begins and leads further into Scotland, they abandon the mountain landscapes. That is a sad departure, as it was refreshing to see the scenery showcased bereft of CGI so often seen today. Yet this no-frills thriller also manages to hold up on flat ground. Throughout, Melissa George shines, but every actor here is turning in smart performances. That has to have some credit due to the script, as this is one of the few films in recent memory that makes an effort to give all of the characters depth and detail. A Lonely Place to Die is a standout 99 minute thriller to look for.

Boys on the Run focuses on an awkward, shy 29-year-old pushover named Tanishi that is in the grips of love. As a day job, he refills a novelty toy dispenser at a local shop. Sex is a running theme throughout Tanishi’s life, but he has no luck with the ladies. That means lots of porn and call girls. Enter Chiharu, a cute co-worker that has an unexplained affection for him that survives mistakenly receiving a bestiality DVD. As they continue to spend time together, they start to form a strong bond and might be falling for each other. In a disastrous night, all of that changes when she feels he betrays her budding love. When she begins to date Tanishi’s friend at a competing company, he falls into despair.

He was a good boyfriend, and her new beau is anything but. When Tanishi feels Chiharu’s honor has been dragged through the mud, he decides to fight for her whether she wants him to or not. In his mind, he is fighting for her honor and potentially her love. Outwardly, he says he is really fighting for the honor of the company, which had some ideas stolen. His quirky co-workers step in and help him train, and the film takes on a Rocky-like feeling as he transforms himself into a fighting machine. With a new Travis Bickle-inspired haircut, will Tanishi win back the girl of his dreams or end up embarrassing himself yet again? The things we do for love…

Sleep Tight is a revenge thriller without much revenge, but high on tension. I say it is a revenge thriller because the main character, Cesar, is certainly exacting something on the beautiful tenant Clara, but it’s not known why. And that’s the real focus of the film from director Jaume Balagueró, best known for co-directing the horror flicks [Rec] and [Rec]2. Those familiar with those films might notice that Balagueró is back again with a vertical shaft apartment building setting. Cesar is the caretaker. Clara is his focus, sneaking into her room each night, drugging her, and sleeping next to her.

Again and again, he goes through his routine. Sleeping in the same bed isn’t all he does though, but it’s the thing he does every time. She never notices, but complains when he greets her in the apartment lobby in the mornings. Quietly, though, his plan starts to unravel. First he is being extorted by Clara’s neighbor, a young nosy girl. And his is being pressured by one annoying, overly anal tenant that thinks he is shirking on his responsibilities. Throughout, Sleep Tight builds a steady sense of tension that only has one true action sequence. Yet, the film remains riveting throughout. A lot of the mystery is left, but it comes to a cruel, satisfying conclusion that will have you checking under your bed for many nights.

Sadly, this is the end of my coverage of Fantastic Fest. To check out the rest of the coverage, you can hit the titles below.

Let The Bullets Fly and Sleepless Night

The Yellow Sea, Headhunters, The Corridor and Livid

The Day, Smuggler, The Skin I Live In and Carre Blanc

Clown, Knuckle and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

A Boy and His Samurai and Aardvark


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