When the Soska Sisters first burst onto the Canadian Horror Film scene, they earned themselves a cult following. Their particular style of practical effect led, high-gore, ultra violent, but slightly camp horror has been welcomed and praised in most quarters of the film community. Having established themselves, they have scooped the rights to remake David Cronenberg‘s 1977 body horror, Rabid. However, this is anything but a straight remake of Cronenberg’s original. Where his original film was a bleak message about the dangers of plastic surgery and disease, this new film touches on a host of modern issues.
Rose (Laura Vandervoort) is a timid design assistant, in the fashion house of whimsical German designer, Gunter (Mackenzie Gray). She’s the office whipping girl, despite being the adopted sister of top model, Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot), and is so shy and introverted that it takes a cooked up date invitation from a co-worker to get her to attend the office drinks party. Rose may be shy but she isn’t a pushover and has her pride. Upon finding out her hot date was set up by her sister, she storms angrily out of the club, and is involved in a horrific car crash, leaving her badly injured and her face horribly maimed.
To help her recover, she enrols in an experimental medical procedure, which miraculously repairs the damage to her mouth and cheek. She is outwardly healed, but left unable to eat almost any food, save for a special tonic supplied by the clinic. Slowly but surely, it becomes clear that she is really craving human blood; venturing out at night to attack people and passing on a frenzied blood-lust to all of her victims. This coincides with her gaining a new sense of self-empowerment, and getting recognised at work, amidst the building dread of a city during a contagious epidemic.
While there’s definitely a lot to like about Rabid, it’s hard to say whether it’s going to land just right for its audience. Having taken the bare bones of the previous version, and fleshed out the lead role in a new direction, the Soska Sisters have created an interesting film, but one that sadly drags on for great swathes of the run time. It’s a film that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. It absolutely excels during the moments of gory horror, but those are rare and sporadic until the final act. Similarly, the character work done by Vandervoort makes Rose a genuinely sympathetic and interesting protagonist. However the film gets bogged down in the midsection with meandering scenes and subplots about the fashion house. To make matters worse, every character other than Rose is a one-note cardboard cutout, who never seem real or have any depth or realism whatsoever.
Another side issue is that the film looks as cheap as it is. The digital film hasn’t been graded to look film-like in any way, and combined with the flat and uninventive cinematography means that the entire escapade feels like a shot-for-TV episode of mid-90s horror anthology show. The overall result is a film that looks unambitious, and feels at times almost like a middle of the road episode of Buffy, or Charmed.
All that said, this isn’t a terrible film. In fact, it’s quite fun in a campy, silly way. Despite the origins, it feels more like something John Waters would have cooked up than Cronenberg. It’s likely that the audience it’s aiming for won’t be Cronenberg fans. Rather, it’s likely to tickle people aiming for a giggle-some B-movie horror, with some wry observations about female empowerment, disfigurement and modern medicine. Ultimately, the Soska Sisters have made a film that isn’t their best work to date, but shows promise, and has a closing 20 minutes that seem to come from a entirely different and drastically better movie.
Available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Mon 7 Oct 2019