by Steven Wandling
The word remake has become somewhat of a dirty word to film fans everywhere. For every genre classic that exists there has to be a newer, slicker big studio version that often fall short of its predecessor’s vision and scope. Just don’t lump Rabid in with that bunch. The Soska Sisters bring their unique, uncompromising blend of artistic, over-the-top violence and a satirical dissection of society to every project they put their names on, and Rabid (2019) is certainly no exception. But isn’t that a remake of David Cronenberg’s Rabid from 1977? Technically, but the Soskas chose to write and direct this reimagining for a reason.
David Cronenberg’s body of work is sacred ground for legion of film fans, horror and otherwise. Jen and Sylvia Soska approach adapting the director’s work with a deep love, respect, and intentions to expand upon the auteur’s ideas and carry them even further into the future. Their Rabid is told from a female perspective. Central character Rose Miller (Laura Vandervoort) is not just the monster that unwittingly infects and kills hundreds of people to satiate an appetite for blood a la Cronenberg, she is a fully formed human being with an actual arc that is both gripping, and central to the Soskas’ success. Rabid (2019) is as much about Rose’s journey from wallflower to vampiric femme fatale as it is anything else.
This Rabid definitely falls under the category of “reimagining” as opposed to “just another remake.” The Soskas fire with both barrels in what feels like a true followup to their breakout masterpiece American Mary (2012). Rabid stands up to and dare I say improves upon many aspects of the original. Rose is the main character of her story this time around, instead of just something that continuously moves the plot forward. There’s not really much rhyme or reason to Marilyn Chambers (Rabid ’77, Behind the Green Door) performance, but Laura Vandervoort breathes new life and takes back the narrative in this iteration.
Rabid‘s plot sounds the same on paper as the original. Rose is taken to a special center for cosmetic surgery after a terrible bike crash leaves her face horribly disfigured. The experimental procedure used to heal her makes her the host of a vampiric creature that is insatiable in its hunt for blood. Rose unwittingly attacks people throughout the film that turn “rabid,” frothing at the mouth and functioning solely to bite other victims, spreading the virus further until the world is placed into a pandemic like state of fear. Off paper, the differences between Cronenberg and the Soskas is striking.
This Rabid is about a human journey that is propelled forward because of something that happened to a character as opposed to a film being about something happening to the world by way of one person. Rose starts the film as the black sheep assistant in a fashion house run by the over the top, vindictive Gunther (Mackenzie Gray), who’s new show Schadenfreude (laughing at others’ misfortune) should tell you a lot about where this character is coming from. His opening monologue about remaking art for its own sake versus staying true to your own artistic vision is a nice wink to those paying attention, as it encapsulates the very struggles the filmmakers face in even helming such a project. How to successfully remake a film while still staying true to your own artistic self?
The Soska, or Twisted TWins as their affectionately called, show that their quite adept at pulling off such a feat. Not just through Rose, but the supporting characters offer a lot to love as well. Model/roommate Chelsea (Henneke Talbot) has a relationship that has some warts but ultimately proves to be one of love and family to Rose. In lots of ways she’s yin to Rose’s yang, but things start to shift when Rose has new found confidence and self-worth post-surgery and Chelsea begins to lose her role in Rose’s life.
Standout supporting actor goes to Ted Atherton as Dr. Burroughs of the Burroughs Clinic, the mysterious plastic surgery center Rose is referred to after the accident that sets Rabid into motion. He is a deliciously evil villain that really delivers on the cunning banality written into the character. He’s a classic mad scientist well styled after today’s modern executive with expensive tastes. He comes off both fatherly and familial to Rose, who is too caught up in the life-changing plastic surgery that gives her the confidence to go after her dreams of fashion design and be seen as the beautiful woman that she indeed is to notice his maniacal fanaticism. THere’s just enough malice and intent behind every little twist of phrase that Dr. Burroughs utters for the audience to pick up on the fact that, at the very least, this man is not to be trusted. It’s a joy to watch him enact his plan throughout the film, and he’s a great villain that Cronenberg’s original is sorely missing.
The Soska Sisters directing style is always full of beautiful staging and enough eye candy for the viewer to get completely lost in. They share a connection with the work of David Cronenberg, having become a household name in the body horror world themselves. Like the man they’re reimagining in their own image, they are also Canadian and modern horror auteurs themselves. There’s some treats for the Cronenberg devotees in Rabid, outside of that film, that make this ride all the more rewarding. In one of the film’s most memorable sequences, a team of surgeons at the Burroughs Clinic fix the face of decked all in a an otherworldly looking red-silk that is a direct homage to Dead Ringers. Rabid also sports supporting roles from Soska regular Tristan Risk (American Mary), always a joy to see on screen and does triple duty this time out for eagle-eyed viewers.
Many of Rabid‘s detractors seem to be missing the point and take the Soskas to task for a lot of things other directors seem to be able to get away with time and time again without so much as a harsh word in a review. The film has been out for some time now, and I’ve had the displeasure of hearing so many ridiculous complaints lobbed this movie’s way that it makes me wonder if those complaining had any real intentions of seeing this movie as anything outside of “just another remake” no one asked for. Jen and Sylvia Soska are seemingly pretty savvy individuals who are often in on the joke. Using the Hollywood standard of a female lead taking off her glasses, putting on makeup, and becoming suddenly beautiful played like a funny stab at a worn cliche. Leaving out the infamous subway scene except in a passing reference could have possibly been because the original sequence is immortal and the Twisted Twins had plenty of other things to show and say. Rabid is brimming with ideas, outstanding practical gore effects, and standout performances from its cast, Laura Vandervoort and Ted Atherton especially. It may not chase every idea it presents down the rabbit hole, but there’s more than enough to leave a hungry audience coming back for more.
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