Movie Review: 'Rabid Dogs' (2015)

Director Eric Hannezo takes viewers on a crimson wave of crime, desperation and psychological warfare in this bombastic thriller. A remake of Mario Bava’s 1974 film ‘Cani Arrabiatti’, ‘Rabid Dogs’ is a peculiar film that breaks away from crime drama convention at every turn. You will not find Hollywood’s Robin Hood-romanticism of bandits here. What you will encounter is an up-close and uncomfortably personal encounter with a group of criminals devoid of a moral creed or any emotional pathos. This is ‘Rabid Dogs’ and there is nothing, docile about it.

Going for the jugular in its opening scene, Hannezo plunges into the chaotic aftermath of a bank heist gone horribly awry for its perpetrators. The four crewmembers (Guillaume Gouix, Francois Arnaud, Franck Gastambide and Laurent Lucas) burst onto the scene, furiously attempting to escape the reckoning of a bloodily, appropriated take.

They soon seek out hostages and find their first in a woman (Virginie Ledoyen) walking to her car. When the attempt to flee in her vehicle is thwarted, they take a man (Lambert Wilson) and his daughter captive for transportation. From here a white knuckle journey with terrified hostages and their paranoid captives takes arresting form.

As its high charging story, ebbs and flows with unexpected spurts of violence, ‘Rabid Dogs’ takes on a sense of woozy wonderment at its morally bankrupt thieves and after one has adjusted to the realization that its antagonists are rail thin in the redemption department, the attention shifts to their victims. The movie strokes its audience with enough teasing to believe, like its female protagonist, there is some way to change the course of their fate through an emotional appeal but it cannot.

There is a danger that sinisterly lurks beneath the surface of this particular story that makes it unnerving in a way most English-language films are too timid to attempt. It never lets up on the sense that its hostages are at constant risk and that the tide can turn against them in an instant.

Adjusting to its rash nature requires some patience as it risks losing viewers with an opening act that’s madness can overwhelm to the point of disillusion. If you can make it past the rough break of its stormy waves, a rigorous yet compelling venture awaits.

The film’s combustive outbursts of violence evoke echoes of Sam Peckeninpah's groundbreaking 'Straw Dogs' and Nicholas Winding Refn’s pulpy, crime drama ‘Drive’. Unlike the latter film, ‘Rabid Dogs’ is more loquacious and tense and its cast seamlessly presents a more wide ranging representation of a violently fraught scenario. Still, there is something that ties the two together. Perhaps it is the question both films posit as to whether the audience is actually dealing with antagonists or protagonists.

‘Rabid Dogs’ joins a growing roster of movies that challenge its audience’s complacency at thinking whoever is dominating the screen, is also its hero. As European cinema continues stretching the bonds of this notion, it offers viewers an exciting ride that pulsates with larger stakes.

It is not up to the filmmaker to do all of the heavy lifting these days and it makes films such as these a necessary cerebral exercise for those desiring a break from the current slate of spoon-fed, popcorn cinema.

Cinematographer Kamal Derkaoui, who also lensed the criminally underrated psychological thriller ‘The Tall Man’, gives the film one of its most colorful characters with his exemplary use of red hues, which simultaneously transmits the film’s themes of violence, passion, fear and love. As a color with which so many emotions fall under its banner, it is cleverly used to evocatively touch on each of them in an unassuming manner that subconsciously provokes its audience to various places.

As previously mentioned, its cast does a superb job of stepping up to the plate in an ensemble intimate in number and hefty in performance ability. This is not a movie that digs much deeper than the surface of its characters, though it does offer interesting glimpses and hints as to what might lie beneath their sullied veneer and its cast is pivotal in transmitting that flow of information.

Thankfully for fans of ‘The Borgias’ actor Francois Arnaud, he gets a much better showcase for his talents than he did in the "thriller"; ‘Big Sky’. In 'Rabid Dogs' Arnaud brings a crazed credibility to his role as the most outwardly unhinged member of the group and it is his performance that supplies most of the story's cutting tension.

Guillame Gouix is also suspenseful as the band’s leader and Franck Gastambide gives a chillingly layered performance that resonates with resounding realism as the grey-est member of the “dogs”. Giving the movie a necessary touch of humanity is a convincing Virginie Ledoyen, while an internalized characterization from Lambert Wilson serves as a critical component to the overarching story.

Come for the thrills and stay for the chills, ‘Rabid Dogs’ offers a heavy dose of both. Hannezo’s impressive directorial debut, expertly presents a ravenous look at the inner workings of aberrant minds, in a way that will stick with you longer than you might like. Just a word of warning, 'Rabid Dogs' boasts more of a bite than its bark suggests. Rating: 7.5/10