Every four to ten years, the film industry sees it fit to serve us up a film about women and the inherent dangers of cut-throat ambition and the myopic pursuit of that cunning carrot dangled just out of reach, perfection. The Nomi Malones and the Nina Sayers, always willing to bleed or let the blood of others in order to achieve their golden moment. And if the calendar is to be believed, it’s been about four years since Nicolas Winding Refn filled the bi-decadal quota with the editorial torpor of The Neon Demon...
...Thus it seems sororal directing duo Jen and Sylvia Soska are right on schedule with their re-imagining of David Cronenberg’s Rabid.
In this cycle, our it girl comes in the form of quiet, slim, blonde fashion designer Rose (Laura Vandervoort). Despite being the ideal image of privilege in an industry that values all of her genetic advantages she’s bafflingly looked down upon and serves as a punching bag for her caricature of a boss, German fashion haüs guru Gunter (Mackenzie Gray).
Following an embarrassing situation in which Rose’s best friend, model Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot) instigates a ‘90s teen romcom pity date setup between Rose and Gunter’s photographer Brad (Benjamin Hollingsworth) at an industry party, Rose storms out and crashes her ridiculous vespa into a truck. The accident leaves her looking like an Umbrella Corporation mishap that her attending physician is rather over-eager to reveal to her. In the space of two weeks Rose loses her face, her job, her sense of hope, and her good sense altogether when she agrees to undergo an experimental reconstructive treatment involving stem cells.
In a scene ripped straight from Lady Gaga’s Alejandro music video, stem-cell enthusiast and Dantean philosopher Dr. Burroughs (Ted Atherton) and his surgical team don red silk operating theater surgical gowns to an ominous piano concerto. Hilarious degrees of pomp and circumstance for what ultimately amounts to little more than applying a band-aid. Except this is a translucent band-aid made of baby juice.
After a brief nod to The Twilight Zone fan-favorite Eye of the Beholder, Rose removes her bandages to reveal her face has reverted back to its former beauty and as a bonus she doesn’t even need glasses anymore! In other words she’s “hot” now. I’m reminded of Chris Evans in Not Another Teen Movie lamenting the target of his bet, “Ugh, not Janey Briggs! Guys she’s got glasses and a ponytail!”
In addition to her restored beauty, Rose has also been gifted a renewed passion for fashion and a hunger for life and blood. Yes, blood blood. Served in big, sleek, red go-go juice bottles that wouldn’t seem out of place at Whole Foods. She also begins to undergo an unseen transformation that results in her hunger increasing exponentially and it may very well be communicable.
As far as remaking a Cronenberg film, it’s the first of its kind and overall it’s a success. The employment of body-based horrors and bizarre sensuality are all trademarks of Cronenberg and feel right at home, if not a bit subdued compared to the auteur’s original works. The Soskas also dial back a good deal on the social and political aspects of the communicable nature of Rose’s transformation, though the moments that are included retain the similar frenetic energy of the 1977 original.
It’s definitely a remake for the ‘10s, steeped in bitchy blog Instagram sensibility. Everything is about image and immediate gratification. People and what they offer are expendable and everything is spectacle. Violence is not to be intervened upon, but rather documented for effect. Beauty is currency and its maintenance unto eternity is paramount, even if the cost is a literal pound of flesh.
Will it end up on my top ten of the year list? Probably not, but it surely belongs a fair safe distance from the bottom. Rabid works to the Soska Sisters’ credit and remains on-brand in their filmography alongside the likes of American Mary. It’s a lean, mean nod to Cronenberg and a rally cry for more women in horror. For the kids in the back, MORE WOMEN IN HORROR!
Bite into Rabid now on VOD/Blu-ray from Shout! Factory.
By Paul Bauer