The task of remaking a cult favourite David Cronenberg film is no easy feat, but fellow Canadians and horror twins The Soska Sisters were more than up to the task of putting their own spin on 1977’s Rabid. Despite having only one previous foray into body horror with 2012’s American Mary, the Soska Sisters have become something of an important force in a new generation of body horror filmmakers. Many of these filmmakers happen to be women, who are infusing their own personal experiences of nightmarish encounters with the human body. After all, who better to display graphic violations and contortions of the body than those who bleed for a week without dying, push whole human beings out of their body and regularly manipulate their persons for the pursuit of beauty?
2019’s Rabid runs with this idea of beauty just as wildly as American Mary did before it. The Soska’s poise lead character Rose (Laura Vandervoort) as a designer at a couture fashion house. Surrounded by unrealistic expectations of beauty in the thin models, diet culture and exceptionally mean head designer Gunter’s (Mackenzie Gray) ridiculous demands, Rose is incredibly run down and working way beneath her actual abilities. Gunther doesn’t see Rose as an asset and she’s regularly shunned at work and relegated to working on other people’s designs, rather than her own original ideas. The stress of working under Gunther has visibly taken its toll and Rose is tired, dishevelled and pasty, one might even say she looks ill.
It is after one such stressful day at work when Rose is riding her moped home and is involved in a horrific collision with another vehicle. Awaking in hospital sometime later, Rose finds she has disfiguring injuries: the entire mouth area of her face has been nearly completely wiped off and her jaw now wired shut for her safety (the images of which got the Soska’s banned from Twitter). Unable to eat, work or basically do anything she usually would, Rose seeks out a more experimental service.
Boroughs Clinic is trailing stem-cell rejuvenation and sees Rose as the ultimate candidate. Her surgery is a theatrical almost fetishistic scene of red latex surgical wear and ritual like performance − it’s a direct reference to other Cronenberg film Dead Ringers, but also fits snugly into the world of latex, fetish and the intersection of horror and glamour that the Soska Sisters so perfectly craft for themselves.
Needless to say that Rose returns completely rejuvenated, in fact, she’s healthier than before. There’s not a scar on her. Her passion for her work returns and so does an unexpected, irrevocable thirst for blood.
It is here that the Soska Sisters take Rabid to a deeper level than the original film. Rose’s new-found appetite directly informs her work. We see how the cutthroat fashion industry only favours the thin and beautiful, and with Rose’s new look, she fits that bill perfectly. It’s an industry full of people hungry− for success, for beauty, for the next big thing. And Rose sure is hungry. It’s not only her work life that sees changes; the Soska’s see Rose’s new lifestyle as her taking control of her life, making her own decisions in work, sex and relationships. The female gaze in this remake is undeniable, there’s a deep understanding of the pressure for women to conform and stay youthful and the unconventional lengths they will go to attain it. This is all backed by some incredible special effects makeup work that holds up as the film’s standout, perfectly gory, composed and shocking.
At times the film does rely on a heavy mix of exposition and foreshadowing, the main instance being that we need to know Rose is a veggie because obviously it’s going to make her craving for blood all the much worse later. It’s a minor gripe, however, and the sheer craziness that Rabid manages to run head-first into is ultimately more entertaining than nit-picking.
With this updated remake, The Soska Sisters more than prove their worth as new, important voices in body-horror. They’ve added more depth to an already-loved film by delving into contemporary issues facing women today in regards to youth, beauty and femininity, backing their gory proceedings with a dose of feminist issues that are now a staple in the twins’ work.
Dir: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Scr: John Serge, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Cast: Laura Vandervoort, Mackenzie Gray, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Ted Atherton, Hanneke Talbot
Prd: Charlie Dorfman, David Gilbery, Larry Howard, Martin Andrew Lyon, Paul McGowan
DOP: Kim Derko
Music: Claude Foisy
Run time: 107 minutes
Rabid is available of Digital, DVD and Blu-Ray now