Jen and Sylvia Soska have not directed a remake of David Cronenberg’s 1977 film “Rabid”, they have reimagined the piece for our current social climate. In doing so, The Soska Sisters have created a bizarrely relevant and unique Horror parable and a respectful tribute to Cronenberg himself.
Written by the Soska Sisters and co-writer John Serge, we are introduced to Rose (Laura Vandervoort giving a breakout performance), an introverted “odd woman out” working for an acid tongued fashion mogul (Mackenzie Grey) while pursuing her dream of being a designer.
In this toxic environment, Rose is an emotional punching bag who silently takes vicious verbal abuse and degradation from her boss on down. Her only friend and confidant is Chelsea (an extremely good Hanneke Talbot) a model who is also Rose’s surrogate family.
After discovering that her date with a fashion photographer she truly likes (Benjamin Hollingsworth) was all a manipulation, Rose is seriously injured in a traffic accident that leaves her with a good portion of her face and jaw grotesquely exposed to the bone. Her face and what little confidence that existed within her are now shattered.
A surgeon named Dr William Burroughs (yes!) reaches out to Rose and convinces her to take part in an experimental new skin reconstruction which gives her a new lease on life, a new and stronger confidence, and some truly bizarre and horrific side effects that include an insatiable need/hunger for flesh and blood.
2019’s “Rabid” isn’t an average by-the-numbers Horror film. The Soska Sisters are much too smart for that. This is a work that takes on the image obsessed culture we have become. We are all much too into ourselves and the (faux)importance of how others see us. Social media is forcing us to measure our own images with what we are told is beautiful. In today’s world, any personal goals are made to seem unreachable. This a a subject that, quite literally, bleeds throughout the film.
That their canvas is the fashion industry couldn’t be more perfect to tell their dark morality tale. This industry is the land of the permanently obsessed. A vicious knife-sharpened world where judgements are constant, and betrayals are many. The story of shy Rose who becomes a Phoenix of sorts in her agency couldn’t have worked as well in another setting.
Another fantastic idea that runs through this film is the look at toxic masculinity and how men perceive themselves as the saviors of women as a whole. It is this dangerous and outdated way of thinking that leads the film through its edge-of-your seat and bloody progression from Rose’s infection to a full-blown frightening epidemic.
Misguided masculinity is itself a virus and we see this in many of the characters, but it is best represented through Dr. Burroughs’ (a perfectly sweet-then-slimy Ted Atherton) complete God complex and in a small internally insecure but outwardly vicious character played by C.M. Punk. The two men are indeed “carriers” of this sickness and their actions have severe consequences. What these two men represent is rich and speaks to the rightful anger of a society that refuses to take their way of thinking anymore.
Another very smart choice (in a film full of smart choices!) is how The Soskas have put Rose in complete charge of her own destinies. In Cronenberg’s film, everything that happened to Marilyn Chamber’s character was never her own doing. She was never in control and could never fully understand what was happening to her and her body, nor why any of it was occurring.
Vandervoort’s Rose is the one who initiates all that happens. She is in control when the accident happens. She agreed to the procedure. She makes the choices (post-operation) to go after “her man” and take charge of her own life. And by the time the film begins its final stretch, Rose once again is in charge of the carnage that follows and discovers that she just may be the one to set things right. Rose is the pilot of all that happens and not just a confused and near wordless passenger. It is this change for the lead character where I find the Soskas have given the film its soul.
The look of the film is quite darkly beautiful and cinematographer Kim Derko’s work here could be her best yet. The film looks great and keeps that Canadian Horror feel that Cronenberg (and The Soska Sisters!) does so well. There is a darkness that covers much of the surrounding frames that gives the film’s atmosphere its mood.
I once spoke with the great Haskell Wexler and he told me how frustrating it can be when a filmmaker hires a cinematographer and neither see eye to eye on the film’s look. After experiencing the visual confidence, the sisters gave to their great film “American Mary”, I am pretty sure that Derko and the Soskas had quite the symbiotic relationship on this one.
The special effects, prosthetics, and more that I won’t reveal are absolutely top-notch and much praise goes to Mastersfx and Steve Kostanski for their terrific and truly creepy work. The Soskas fill their film with visual and aural tributes to the work of David Cronenberg and the special effects are no exception. Body Horror can be difficult to bring across (except for Cronenberg who is the master of the genre) and the FX work here is phenomenal and holds some of the most creative and skin crawling work to come to the genre in a while.
As I mentioned, Laura Vandervoort is perfect as Rose. It is a role that has many layers and the actress captures each and every nuance perfectly. From when we first meet the character to after her “blossoming”, Vandervoort is so convincing that it almost seems like another actress. By mid-film, we lose the actress that was the introverted and doormat personality that Rose was and fully embrace this new person, confident in her own style and womanhood. The change is more than mere makeup adjustments. The actress uses her diction, her mannerisms, her way of moving to convey the changes. The difference is striking and Vandervoort delivers with skill.
Jen and Sylvia Soska are smart filmmakers that bring a sense of urgency and potency to this film and to genre films of today. That they took a really great film from one of our finest filmmakers and found a relevance for it in 2019 while keeping us entertained was a major feat and the sisters should be commended.
“Rabid” is a smart and potent reimagining of Cronenberg’s original that is considerably more than a Horror film. If one is paying attention, it’s a powerful voice amongst the rally cry fighting today’s societal issues. The Soska Sisters want you to have fun and be creeped out. But they want to be heard and listen we will! The sisters are filmmakers with something to say in a genre that has said it all. Their voices, styles, and very personalities are unique, and this latest film is a testament to their ever-burgeoning talents.