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When Jen and Sylvia Soska burst onto the horror scene in 2009 with their low budget as you can get indie flick Dead Hooker in a Trunk, word spread quickly of the promise these two women possessed in their filmmaking arsenal. Three years later and the Soska Sisters followed their debut with American Mary, an extremely impressive character study and body horror flick that solidified the pair as horror directors to keep a close eye on.
Sadly though, after American Mary the Soska Sisters failed to build on that promise. After a questionable WWE films deal, they delivered subpar horror/thriller flicks See No Evil 2 in 2014 and Vendetta in 2015 that left many scratching their heads in disbelief. As such it seems fitting that seven years after their body horror breakout, the Soska Sisters have turned to a remake of an early David Cronenberg classic, one with the potential to show the pair are still worth hailing. Could updating Rabid for a brand-new generation prove a return to form or would it continue their descent into mediocrity?
This reincarnation centers around Rose (Laura Vandervoort), a struggling fashion designer who becomes involved in a nasty accident that leaves her visual appearance verging on both hideous and sympathetic. After consulting with a stem-cell specialist, Rose goes under the scalpel and agrees to take part in a radical new treatment in the hope of feeling normal again and furthering her career. Things go better than she could have ever imagined. But there’s a price – an insatiable bloodlust she can’t control.
One positive thing becomes apparent very early in this reinvention of Rabid. The Soska Sisters nailed the dirty, sleazy visuals of Cronenberg’s flick perfectly. Rabid looks like a low budget straight-to-DVD horror movie. Yet, the Soska Sisters manage to use this to their advantage. Their grainy visuals and seedy set designs, especially in the final third, evoke what was so striking about the 1977 original’s vibe.
That said, while the Rabid remake’s scrappy old school visual palette may work in its favour, the same can’t be said of much else. When things kick off and chaos takes control, the gore and physical transformations are laughable at best – looking extremely cheap and undercutting some of the movie’s tauter moments. Where Cronenberg’s Rabid delivered a tense psychological exploration of infection – one with barely any reliance on extravagant makeup effects – the Soska Sisters’ take feels more like a generic creature feature, one which can’t even muster up any convincing looking carnage.
Scripts have never been the Soska Sisters’ strong point and Rabid is no different. Vandervoort does what she can with her dialogue and gives the only solid performance in the movie. But the acting on display here is weak, not having the strength to carry what the Soska Sisters are selling. Close friend Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot) is surprisingly underused and love interest Brad (Ben Hollingsworth) plummets into familiarity early on and his character progression is fooling no one by Rabid’s predictable conclusion. Meanwhile, the stem-cell specialist, aptly named William Burroughs (Ted Atherton), is every villain you have ever witnessed in any movie dealing with humanity’s impending doom.
Even WWE’s CM Punk makes a completely unnecessary appearance in Rabid, one which wreaks of studio involvement and contractual agreements – a feeling solidified by the fact that he isn’t very convincing in the film. The truth is every supporting role in Rabid suffers from terrible acting or abysmal writing.
As far as structure goes, Rabid also drops the ball entirely. It starts out as an interesting dive into the depths of body transformation and an examination of identity loss, yet quickly turns to shock and gore to propel its ‘end of the world, run for your lives’ plot-line that takes hold. With the head-numbingly generic super villain story that wraps up Rabid, it’s like Cronenberg’s psychological thriller was hijacked by Robert Rodriguez in Grindhouse mode, the two halves never melding successfully.
Scenes just happen without any real sense of fluidity throughout Rabid’s 110-minute runtime. If the remake was trimmed down to 80-90 minutes, it probably could have made for a more cohesive and steady narrative. As it stands, Rabid just plods along to an unsurprising yet unsatisfying conclusion, feeling extremely disjointed in the process.
In closing, American Mary is a superb little movie and one hopes that the Soskas can make similarly fascinating horrors once more. Rabid is not one of them, instead being part of a growing list of disappointments from the pair. For Cronenberg obsessives like myself, I highly encourage them to steer clear of this new reincarnation. Rabid is a strong case of curiosity actually killing the cat.