Rabid (2019) | Directed by Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Written by John Serge, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska | Starring Laura Vandervoort, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Ted Atherton
Remake of Rabid (1977)
Sylvia and Jen Soska, known as The Soska Sisters or The Twisted Twins, have made quite a name for themselves directing, writing and acting in some of most visceral, brutal horror films of the last ten years.
Their breakout film, 2009’s Dead Hooker in a Trunk (review), attracted more attention for its controversial name than the movie itself. However, it established the style and mystique the Soska name would bring to independent film.
The sisters’ follow up to Dead Hooker in a Trunk was a terrific body horror effort called 2012’s American Mary, a body in pieces fantasy David Cronenberg would have loved himself. Well crafted, with an intriguing premise, the Soska’s fashioned a gory mini-masterpiece, that must have made the producers of Rabid confident the ladies were the right women for the job!
I have to give Sylvia and Jen props for taking on the re-imagining of one of Canada’s greatest director’s best films. Unfortunately, the situation also put the Soska’s in an untenable situation: direct a true remake of 1977’s Rabid or an homage to a man I’m positive they idolized. In addition to this pressure, the sisters had the distinction of being the first to redo one of Cronenberg’s films.
Anxious to make the new film as pure as possible, the Soska’s hired many of Cronenberg’s former crewmembers to assist on the project. When asked about the philosophical underpinnings of the movie the Sister’s replied “thoughts and conversation” from the original and “modernized through a female perspective”.
The film opens with Rose (Laura Vandervoort, Ted, Jigsaw, Smallville) an aspiring dress designer speaking with her best friend Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot), a glass half full kind of girl, who’s an aspiring model. She is surrounded by two alpha-bitch models (The Soska Sisters) and a truly weird boss Gunter (Mackenzie Gray) who seems to embody every negative cliché about Euro-trash, false aesthete fashion muckety muck ever captured on film. His performance makes Will Ferrell’s turn in Zoolander and Sascha Baron Cohen’s absurd performance in Bruno seem nuanced and subtle by comparison. To make things even more outlandish, he has named his new clothing line “Schadenfreude”, a shame because that’s always been one of my favorite German words.
The crew is letting off some steam later that night at the local disco, where poor Rose has to fend off creep after creep. She escapes to the ladies’ room, only to hear the bad bitches who have huddled in one stall doing coke, badmouthing her and saying all kinds of tarty things about poor Rose.
The night doesn’t get any better for our heroine, who flees the scene despite being implored by Chelsea to stay. Zipping along on her motorbike, the old distracted driver thing comes a ‘calling and Rose gets run over.
In the hospital, Rose awakes, head wrapped up like The Invisible Man. It’s opening day for her new face and as the kind doctor removes the gauze, he advises she may want to remove mirrors from her apartment. When we see Rose post-accident, we wish the quack had left the bandages on. Some pretty effective make-up has left our poor girl looking like The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and not his good side, either.
She is advised an experimental surgery is available for an exorbitant price (and of course insurance won’t cover it) leaving Rose depressed. A sinister doctor shows up, Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton) offering to do the surgery for free. She agrees and the operation is a success, or is it?
Rose recovers from the operation and is now a first-class babe. Even her nasty boss (a physical cross between Udo Kier and Klaus Kinski) is impressed and not only that, he loves the sketches Rose presents of her clothing line.
Well, can you say turn-around? Rose is now successful, beautiful and is dating a hunk photographer. What could be better? Not having horrible dreams where she eviscerates people and drinks their blood comes to mind. And also waking to find they weren’t dreams. Now the question is can it be worse? And the answer is, hell yes!
Pretty soon, all the people Rose bit, and all the people who were bitten by people who were bit by Rose, turn into raving blood lusting loonies. Things are definitely getting out of hand! As the hospital turns into a blood bank and law and order begins to break down, is there anywhere for poor Rose to go? Her choices are limited and unappealing.
The technical aspects of the production are wonderful. No night-time or dark scenes that are unwatchable. Smooth SFX, above average photography and art direction. However, the acting overall leaves much to be desired, the dialogue really needed some work and despite a world where weird vampires are running wild, not much suspense is generated.
Much of 2019’s Rabid lifted massive amounts of plot from the original. Much of the basic narrative was kept but I thought as I watched, what a wasted opportunity. Other than a slightly higher gore quotient, the film’s dialogue though quite funny in spots was banal and trite in spots. The relationship between Chelsea and Rose which begged for more exposition, especially in a film aimed at a female perspective, never got beyond a perfunctory level.
And while Laura Vandervoort made better choice for leading lady than porn star Marilyn Chambers, you never get the feeling the film is either her ally or willing to empower the role. The Soska’s seem to be saying she only has power when she becomes a monster, which is kind of sad. Most characters in the film do not fare well; women, men, and monsters all are fed into a faceless, soulless meatgrinder which suggests all things being equal, women will always come out worse when it comes to men. And maybe that’s The Soska Sister’s point. Not an optimistic or progressive view.
In summation, if you’re searching for an inventive remake of a solid exploitation classic, Rabid may do it for you. I enjoyed the film.
But if you’re looking for new territory, and a film that goes beyond paying homage to the great Cronenberg, you may be disappointed.