Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska.
Starring Laura Vandervoort, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Ted Atherton, Hanneke Talbot, Stephen Huszar, Mackenzie Gray, Stephen McHattie, and C.M. Punk.
The quiet Rose works in women’s fashion clothing, hoping to be a designer. A traffic accident damages her face. She gets experimental stem cell treatment, leaving her stronger and prettier than ever – but there’s a side effect.
Who knew in 2019, the year of our Lord Paimon, we’d get a “sexy” Rabid remake. Pandamonium is traded for haute couture hazards, in a salacious runway thriller that never lives up to the maddening lack of control once wielded by David Cronenberg. It’s certainly a varied take that steps away from recreation, but amplified commotion is lost through an otherwise pristinely surgical lens. Jen and Sylvia Soska struggle to fuse social unrest subplots with a deadly-debonair modeling satire. The word “tame” comes to mind, and frankly, that’s a deserved shame.
Rose (Laura Vandervoort), a timid fashion designer waiting patiently for her breakout, encounters tragedy when involved in an auto wreck. Her jaw is mangled, exposing bone-white teeth, while intestinal tubing shortens by some inches. Rose calls herself a monster when “talking” via marker board to friend and dress model Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot), although hope isn’t lost. Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton) invites Rose to his research facility based on an opportunity: experimental stem cell treatments paid in full. She accepts, the jellyfish-like graft binds to its new host, but Rose immediately starts feeling hallucinatory and disassociated side-effects that involve uncommon feeding practices. Beauty comes at a price, they say.
The Soska siblings’ Rabid is less about survival, more about desire, lust, and betrayal. Threats of a widespread outbreak are comically avoided to stay tethered to Rose’s professional passions, as we never feel the full impact of containment unrest. Narration favors Rose’s workplace dramatics, not the larger rabies contamination that somehow avoids most public areas where Rose’s shrunken world extends. There’s no denying budgets are tight, but where restrictive pains are felt most is when Rose’s path to living her best bitchin’ fashionista life overrides infection panic. Far too often, one might add.
We’re stranded in Rose’s bubble, surrounded by coke fiends and twig-thin beauties draped in boss Gunter’s (Mackenzie Gray) radical clothing. She goes from zero to drop-dead gorgeous once the stem cells correct all her “flaws,” as Rose sheds “pedestrian” (still hot) skin to become a certified “smokeshow” (hot but without the coverup makeup). Gunter praises her sketches, boys start drooling, and most importantly, Rose acts as patient zero to an unknown pathogen through basic bacterial swapping. Although, every night ends the same. Rose isolates another male, inhibitions are lost, then she wakes up alone, in bed, thinking of the unspeakable acts her head “dreams up.” Despite a citywide exposure to enraged anarchy, Rose’s narrative is shortsighted and shown odd levels of importance. Downplaying the promises in a title like Rabid.
In glamifying small-scale mass hysteria, the Soskas present a rather basic horror scenario. Plotted shifts between Rose’s advancing career and foaming aggression are detrimental as her newfound cells mutate not only physical “blossoming,” but her creative fires start producing red-devil dresses. It’s a wonky balance between two seemingly segmented stories – Rose’s triumphant return and ongoing CDC efforts to contain a “wild” outbreak – yet we never experience the full weight of dystopian chaos. An actor (played by Stephen Huszar) tears his co-star’s cheek flesh, we watch as Rose passes her “virus” via one shared liquor shot (admittedly a fun effect as the screen blinks red with each new dancefloor victim), but outside dangers rarely infiltrate Rose’s microcosm world.
Laura Vandervoort’s work with prosthetic facial deformations and then sultry acts of violent seduction grant the actress plenty to toy with, same for Hanneke Talbot’s bitchy-lite best friend or Benjamin Hollingsworth’s photographer at-a-distance romantic mark. Performances are all well enough, but their disinterest in the larger pandemic at play is an odd choice. Again, it’s all very seen-before in terms of self-prideful commentaries and sheer madness that’s never sold with the highest intensity. Vandervoort’s early vulnerability aids a setup that lacks emotion – the accident’s preceding events – and she’s a bright-enough leading talent lost in a duller ensemble.
As strictly a horror film, it takes far too long for carnage to erupt. Rose’s delusional “hunger” ranges from blood spit into a pool after one fierce kiss to C.M. Punk’s gnawed neck, both in rapid fashion. Huszar’s on-set attack gets a bit nastier, but other than that it’s not until late in third act timelines that Rabid pays homage to tentacles and two prosthetic set-pieces that exude their budgetary constrictions. This is where the film stumbles, never able to toss more than a minimal amount of bodies on-screen while skimping on thematic commentaries as law enforcement pumps bullets into crazed citizens instead of offering medical help. Like poor hospitalized Santa, which, hilariously, is never explained.
While we’re on it, Rabid is a preacher of coincidence on too many occasions. Evil scientists who dump buckets of blood Carrie-style onto characters as bait, except the blood would have missed had said person stepped a foot left or right. Another character bursts out-of-breath into Gunter’s climactic Schadenfreude collection unveiling – still happening *despite* the CDC’s announced quarantine because we die for trendiness in this town – and starts drinking then backwashing into every champagne glass she sees. A humorous enough sequence, but then others, who watch her contaminate each glass, drink from the spit cocktail anyway?! All these hilarious moments that, presumedly, aren’t supposed to make you chuckle end up holding the film’s grandest implications. Not a great sign, as horrors are lost amidst staggering poses and womanizing pickup lines.
A Rabid remake should be something ferocious, but 2019’s indie homage fails to incite any riots. The Soska sisters’ en vogue approach opens the door for reinvention (more imagined Silent Hill nightmares please), but fumbles what Cronenberg was able to accomplish when intensifying society’s already contagious disease. It’s almost as if the entire rabies scenario is forgotten, ushered in and cleaned up neatly by voiceover work that’s a disservice to excitement and terror. I get wanting to put your signature spin on a “classic,” casting yourself to say you were in Rabid, except this iteration never seemed to possess the means worth elevating Cronenbergian cinema. With that in mind, one has to wonder, what was the intended result here?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).