29th Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Rabid’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Laura Vandervoort, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Mackenzie Gray, Hanneke Talbot, Ted Atherton, Stephen Huszar | Written by John Serge, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska | Directed by The Soska Sisters

rabid-poster

After their second feature, American Mary, exploded on to the horror scene, Canadians writer/directors Jen and Sylvia Soska were crowned the queens of body horror. Now, some seven years after that film debuted, the sisters return to the body horror genre, taking on a remake of Rabid, a film originally helmed by the KING of body horror himself – and a fellow Canadian – David Cronenberg.

However; before you all start decrying remakes and reboots, this particular take on the sexually-charged blood-lust feeding, rabies-ravaged killer-creating story is a far cry from Cronenberg’s. In fact, apart from a nod or two (including a brilliant visual reference to Dead Ringers) to the work of the man behind the likes of The Fly, this film could be considered a monster all its own. Yes, the basic story, of a woman whose plastic surgery unleashes a monster within her, is there but pretty much everything else has changed. Including the motivations and actions of our protagonist herself. Making this a more feminist take on a true classic.

This take on Rabid posits the question: What happens when you realize to achieve your dreams you have to live a nightmare? Rose, played by Laura Vandervoort, wants to become a famous designer in the fashion world, but a terrible accident leaves her scarred beyond recognition. Undergoing a radical untested stem cell treatment, wallflower Rose turns into the belle of the ball and starts to realize her ambitions – designing a new fashion line with her boss, renowned fashion mogul Gunter (a scene, nay almost movie-stealing performance by Mackenzie Gray). But everything in life comes at a price and Rose’s new found perfection is no exception as she unwittingly sets off a bloody spiral of contagion.

So what EXACTLY are the changes that make this take on Rabid more of a feminist take on the story? Well for one everything that happens is at the hand of Rose. She gets herself in a car crash, she checks out of hospital and consents to the experimental stem cell work of the Borroughs Institute (cleverly named after William S. Burroughs, whose book – and life – was adpated by Cronenberg in 1991). Rose also finds herself within the monster inside her, the freedom afforded her by her surgery – a new visage and with that a new-found confidence – allows her to open up creatively, which in turn fuels her confidence more. And unlike Marilyn Chambers character in the original this Rose is in more control; at least in the early stages of her “change”. But we all know that you should never get too big for your boots as that arrogance, that conceit, will undoubtedly come back to bite you in the arse. In the case of Rabid LITERALLY bite you! Well, actually, in Rose’s case she’s doing the biting…

And when that violence explodes, as Rose’s bloodlust can no longer be contained by the “dietary supplements” given to her by her doctor, the spread of the contagion is fast. Very fast. The violence also grows, almost in tandem with Rose’s confidence – she’s stronger-willed because the monster inside her is getting stronger. Perhaps a statement on how power and fame can go to one’s head, creating a monstrous personality? Feeding off each other in a vicious circle? Something that I’m sure filmmakers like Jen and Sylvia Soska have come across in their career. Speaking of monster, the Soska’s iteration of Rabid features some fantastic effects work from MastersFX and Steve Kostanski (of Astron-6). Gorier and visually more explicit than Cronenberg’s original, the effects build and build in their complexity and visceral nature, culminating in the appearance of “thing” living at Borroughs Institute where Rose’s terrifying journey began.

Even the denouement to Rabid continues the female-focus of the Soska’s vision, as Rose – freed from her self-imposed constraints but now bound to her inner monster – is caged by a man, the very man that made her. She’s being held [back] by a man that wants to use her for his own medical fame (or should that be infamy?)… Much like Rose’s boss Gunter did before her surgery. And thus the circle continues.

**** 4/5

Rabid screened at this years Arrow Video Frightfest on Monday August 26th 2019.

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