A remake of the 1977 Cronenberg film, by the equally Canadian Soska twins; affectionately made, rather than well made.
David Cronenberg, the Canadian “Baron of Blood”, wrote and directed Rabid in 1977. It was his second horror film: serious, shocking, nasty, and very much of its time. Jen and Sylvia Soska’s new film Rabid (2019) is a love letter to that earlier title; but like many love letters, the passion is much more evident than the talent.
The main character of Rabid is Rose (Laura Vandervoort), a modest young woman who works in fashion. She desperately wants to design clothes but is stuck in a dogsbody job for Günter (Mackenzie Gray). Rose is badly injured in a motorcycle accident and opts for experimental surgery to restore her face, not caring what side-effects it might bring.
Everyone has views about remakes, and there are many different types of remakes: some copy the earlier film faithfully (see Funny Games or Psycho), some walk all over the earlier (e.g. Pet Sematary). The more successful remakes carry such a clear vision of their own that the audience can almost forget an earlier film existed; I’m thinking of The Thing, and of course Cronenberg’s The Fly. In both of those, the original story provided a springboard for a more ambitious and more contemporary film. That’s kind of what I expected when I started watching the Soska sisters’ Rabid, but it’s not what I saw.
The perspective is definitely the “female gaze”, rather than the male one of the 1977 film: the new Rose has a personality, and a career (and nothing to do with ***********). She is allowed to make decisions, about her recovery from the accident, about who she wants to spend time with, and about her work; the earlier Rose was little more than a plot device. Another major difference is setting the story within the fashion industry, albeit a satirical view of fashion; this provides the Soskas with the chance for some catty and brief comments about body image, and the way women can see themselves… but this isn’t quite related to the topic of surgery, which you might expect from what Rose goes through.
Where Rose’s bloodlust and the infection it spawns were the focus of the 1977 film, in this one they are peripheral to the development of her fashion career. We don’t even see much evidence of the supposed “rabies pandemic” beyond a rumor and news report; it’s as though what Rose doesn’t know about doesn’t matter. We don’t see the motor accident (or indeed any signs that it traumatized her) either, but we see close-ups of Rose’s injuries and repair work: the Soska’s passion is to be found in body horror, after all, rather than action.
The horror in Rabid 2019 is big and glossy, of course (though nowhere near as extreme as in American Mary); but it was the gruesome, gritty nature of it that shocked in 1977. The newer film is cartoonish and silly, rather than pointedly shallow. Overall, the film had the feel of a college project made by fans of Cronenberg, not something professional. I’ll keep watching the Soska twins’ work, but this one is a shame: Cronenberg deserved a much more polished tribute.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.