Review: Rabid (2019)

Directors: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska

Stars: Laura Vandervoort, Mackenzie Gray, Hanneke Talbot

To ‘stan’ has become part of the cultural parlance, and even a quick Google will give the uninitiated a definition: To “be an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity”. In general usage its applied more casually, I’ve found. Why bring it up? Because I always wanted to ‘stan’ the Soska Sisters.

Identical twins, precociously gothic, with a voracious appetite for horror movies? What’s not to love!? Horror is an overbearingly masculine genre, creatively speaking, and sorely needs more feminine voices. Alas, this puts an unnecessary weight of expectation on their work, misguidedly casting the twins as avatars for what’s missing from the party. Their sophomore effort, 2012’s American Mary was a superb calling card, following the grindhousey-by-name, grindhousey-by-nature Dead Hooker In A Trunk. Their time had come, or so it seemed. But then came their very underwhelming flicks for WWE; a needless sequel to See No Evil that was just about passable, and an under-cooked prison thriller, Vendetta, that was, well… awful.

But now they’re back – volatile as ever – remaking a signature film from the godfather of body horror; David Cronenberg. His original Rabid from 1977 isn’t quite the stuff of mainstream horror legend, but to the faithful its a respected point on the map, and this endeavour worryingly feels like the Soskas setting themselves up to fail… I mean, remakes, right?

Cronenberg’s film has a strange charm derived – in part – from trying to make the most of a shoestring budget. On this score, at least, the Soskas are on a par with their forbearer. Their Rabid smacks of the same gumption. Expensive scenarios like car crashes and mass panics are salvaged with judicious, even creative editing and some deliciously gooey effects make-up and blood splatters, while tonally, the sisters bring an ironic glint to the material.

Rose Miller (Laura Vandervoort) works in the fashion industry. She’s a model. The film’s opening few scenes smack heavily of Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, and you’ll find the directors making a small cameo in a catty bathroom scene. Before long, Rose is involved in a bad motor accident. She awakes to find herself hideously disfigured; Vandervoort sports an outrageously over-the-top prosthetic for the shock reveal. Having joked with the viewer over the extreme nastiness of her queasy new visage (which fuses flesh with metal – very Cronenbergian) Rabid goes on to play Rose’s predicament with straight-faced and plaintive seriousness. Her life is irrevocably changed and its sad.

A lesson in trans-humanism ushers us into similar thematic territory covered in American Mary, which heavily revolved around the underground scene of body modification. The idea of taking control of your own evolution is being explored here, bringing a form of empowerment to Rose’s perceived victimhood, yet she becomes an unwitting test subject following a procedure that pointedly references another Cronenberg deep cut – Dead Ringers – and is grafted more than just a new face. She becomes patient zero in an epidemic of rabid cannibalism breaking out around her. Julia Ducournau would be so proud.

Rose’s efforts to satisfy her hunger – the victims she chooses – call to mind the psychopathology of Zoë Lund’s double rape victim Thana in Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45, seeking insatiable vengeance on New York’s alpha males. So Roses’ marks feel like pointed rebukes against aggressive machismo. #TimesUp indeed.

Things only get weirder as Rabid goes on. Dream sequences look like perversions of Silent Hill, while this film takes the kooky ‘vampiric armpit’ of the Cronenberg movie and gleefully one-ups it.

The Soskas’ work here is stylish and good humoured, with an evolved script that takes aim at the vacuity in society. Rose’s disfigurement is perceived as unacceptable; not viable for her career, but also not something that could be reasonably tolerated in any circumstance. In 2019, society is susceptible to infection because it is already compromised, if not rotten to the core. Cueing up Rose’s insatiable hunger with loud belly rumbles is just the Soskas having fun with the scenario. They’re hungry to take a bite out of our collective shortcomings.

This is a fun cover version, one that casts aside unhappy memories of See No Evil 2 and Vendetta. There’s a renewed sense of purpose here, even in spite of the rehashed material. The twins have performed cosmetic surgery on the 70’s template. They’ve remoulded it, shaped it to fit their needs. The result is, among other things, the most scathingly funny takedown of the fashion industry this side of Zoolander.

After a half decade or more in the wilderness, I’m very happy to say its okay to ‘stan’ the Soskas once more.

Rabid has gone straight-to-DVD (and bluray) here in the UK, like so many undesirable horror also-rans, but is deserving of more attention.

Score: 

 

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