Introducing their remake of David Cronenberg’s Rabid, Frightfest stalwarts the Soska Sisters advised the eager crowd that, first, the movie is intended as a tribute to the man himself and, second, that they hate remakes, which makes it doubly confusing that the flick does absolutely nothing new with Cronenberg’s original concept while also failing at paying any real homage to it. As annoying as it must be for two remake-haters, Rabid is a remake that doesn’t justify its existence whatsoever.
The story focuses on timid, wannabe fashion designer Rose (a committed Laura Vandervoort, whom horror fans will recognize from Jigsaw). Working under the thumb of a haute couture peddler whose latest collection is basically “Derelicte” (it’s actually called “Schadenfreude: Who’s Laughing Now? — the best joke in the movie by a long shot) has robbed Rose of much of her creative energy, so BFF and model Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot, also seen in this year’s Ready or Not) sets her up on a date.
After overhearing a couple bitchy types (played by the Soskas themselves in an extended, laughably self-indulgent cameo) gossiping about how Rose was only asked out because of Chelsea, the poor woman flees the party she’s at, runs into the street, and promptly gets mown down. She awakens to discover a massive chunk of her face is missing but it’s okay, a shady doctor played by Stephen McHattie, fresh off terrorizing Elijah Wood in Come to Daddy, is here to make everything better. With no further consequences.
Rabid is a whopping 110 minutes long and it really feels like it. Scenes drag on interminably, with so much time dedicated to Rose slowly removing her bandages, gawking at her face and weeping that you wonder whether the whole movie is just going to be comprised of this from then on. There’s so much scene setting that it’s actually a shock when Rose goes under the knife and gets fixed by the clearly evil doctor, who lurks in the shadows as she and Chelsea discuss whether to go ahead with the surgery, and whose surgical outfit is truly terrifying. Why would anyone trust this man!?
The flick deviates from gross-out body horror to over the top humor, whether it’s the incredibly orange fashion designer Rose works for, or Dr. Keloid deadpanning that there are “one or two side effects I should mention.” When Rose gets her face fixed, Chelsea tells her “you’re pretty now, you don’t have to be nice.” Then, as things start going mental, a doctor comments on what could’ve bitten a man who’s foaming at the mouth. If there was any tension, these weird comedic moments would rob it of any kind of suspense, which is a shame because the throbbing heartbeat on the score establishes something of a dark, intense atmosphere.
Rabid becomes tiresome rather quickly, either because the concept wasn’t fleshed out enough (LOL) or because the story isn’t sufficiently interesting to fill a 110-minute movie. Horror movies are 90 minutes for a reason; anything beyond that starts to feel like a stretch (with the exception of certain all-timers, the makers of which were masters of tone and scale). The recent Knives and Skin had the same core issue, but at least its premise was fresh and writer-director Jennifer Reeder took risks communicating her message. Here, the Soskas drift between copying Cronenberg and flailing around trying to modernize his story.
Rabid doesn’t feel as grubby as their previous films, in particular American Mary, which also featured scary surgical proceedings, arguably to its detriment. The slickness jars against Rose’s harsh predicament and the blood, if it’s not CGI, is the least convincing I’ve seen in a movie this year. There is an interesting, deliberately disgusting visual in the final act but even it reads like everything that’s come before. It’s nothing new, which could actually serve as a general description for Rabid itself.
The problem is that The Neon Demon did a lot of this stuff better, and it wasn’t long enough ago that the memory has faded. The fashion angle was better, the body horror, even the general atmosphere. Neon Demon took itself seriously enough that the laughs were dark rather than goofy, whereas Rabid can’t decide whether it’s an all-out horror story or a dark satire of the fashion industry. In the end, it doesn’t work as either. The movie is neither scary nor sharp enough to make any kind of impact, even when the crazies start piling up, as it were (side note: The Crazies is a great remake).
It’s disappointing, because the performances are faultless, from Vandervoort, who flits between timid mouse and voracious sexpot, to Talbot, who does well-meaning for most of the flick before getting her teeth into something juicier in the final act, and McHattie, whose brooding doctor is simultaneously evil enough that he immediately poses a threat and professional enough that Rose trusting him is at least somewhat understandable. Mackenzie Gray has fun as wacky designer Guntar but clearly someone thinks the joke with his character (“German” people say things funny!) is cleverer than it is.
As for Phil “C.M. Punk” Brooks, seen here in a glorified cameo, it’s again shocking that he can’t convincingly play an asshole given the extended experience he’s had doing so both in the WWE and his own life. At least Brooks isn’t required to carry the film, as he was with Girl on the Third Floor. His wife, AJ Mendez, AKA ex-wrestler AJ Lee, also appears briefly in Rabid, as a fashion model, but rather than keeping the diminutive woman in a chair the entire time, the Soskas stand her up alongside the other towering glamazons. Is this a comment on the prohibitive beauty standards of the fashion industry, or are they just careless?
The Soskas claim they did this movie for Cronenberg, so it’s not even worth wondering who their take on Rabid is actually aimed at. Horror fans will find nothing new or surprising about it, and casuals won’t understand why this particular story is being told in the first place (the original Rabid isn’t as beloved as, say, The Fly) and for the second time. This isn’t the worst film you’ll watch all year, simply because it’s not really that memorable in the first place.
WICKED RATING: 3/10
Director(s): Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Writer(s): Jen Soska, Syliva Soska, John Serge
Stars: Laura Vandervoort, Hanneke Talbot, Stephen McHattie, Phil “C.M. Punk” Brooks
Release date: TBC
Studio/Production Company: Back 40 Pictures
Run Time: 110 minutes