Friday, October 11, 2019

Rabid – review

Directors: The Soska Sisters

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

I have a strange relationship with the original David Cronenberg Rabid. I love the concept but the execution feels off. I think Chambers is good as lead character Rose but the writing of the character leaves her wandering the film in a daze. I love the Freudian body horror aspect but think calling the film a body horror is a stretch. I enjoy watching it but don’t rate it highly score-wise (I do wonder from time to time if I should re-rate it with a higher mark and then feel utterly conflicted).

I was, therefore, interested to see what would be done with a remake. The Soska Sisters impressed me, particularly, with their film American Mary, I was sure that they would get the gore but would we get the film the original could have been? This is definitely a body horror and also makes no secret of it being a vampire film, but it perhaps misses in places where it hits in others.

Opening on a billboard for the Haus of Gunter (a fashion house at the centre of the film); with the bike, the girl, the flatness of the image, I was immediately reminded of the original Rabid. We then meet Rose (Laura Vandervoort, the Dresden Files: Bad Blood & Mom’s Got a Date with A Vampire) who gets on a scooter, has a near miss with another vehicle and rushes into work (at Haus of Gunter) late. Gunter (Mackenzie Gray, Forever Knight & Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) makes disparaging, nasty comments that cause everyone to laugh at her but then explains he is illustrating schadenfreude, which will be the inspiration for his next line.

Laura Vandervoort as Rose
Rose is played dowdy at this point in the film; bespectacled, uneven complexion, with a fine but noticeable small scar on her face, which is a reminder of the car crash that killed her parents. Rose is approached by photographer Brad (Benjamin Hollingsworth) who asks if she is going to an after party. She says no but he asks her to go to it on a date with him. She agrees. Her friend Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot), a model in the fashion house, convinces Rose to borrow a dress from Gunter’s racks to go the party in. She has trouble getting in (the bouncer struggling to find her name on the list she actually provided), but when she finds Brad they speak (he mentions wanting to be a photojournalist), he kisses her and goes to get her a drink.

Gossiping Soskas
She goes to the toilet but a pair of women (played by the Soska Sisters) are in a stall next to her, snorting drugs and gossiping. Rose hears that Chelsea asked Brad to ask her out and that he’ll sleep with anyone. Humiliated she confronts Chelsea, storms out, gets on her scooter and is crushed in a road traffic accident… When rose wakes up, after a week, she is in hospital, her face bandaged and Chelsea by her bedside. The attending physician, Dr Keloid (Stephen McHattie, Deadly Love, the Strain), explains that her jaw has been wired shut and she has lost a section of intestine. She insists on the bandages being removed and sees her mangled face. She has lost her job as well but Chelsea has moved Rose’s stuff into her apartment and intends to be there for her.

the aftermath
Once ensconced in the apartment, she is approached by a clinic that Keloid has referred her details to. The clinic believes in transhumanism (the theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations by means of science and technology) but is restricted by legal limitations so gathers in suitable human test subjects and repays them by offering free lifelong medical treatments. At this point it is worth pointing out that the film skirts a line (sometimes unsuccessfully) between being cleverly referential and pushing the references too far, to the point of almost being crass and laying them on too thick. In this case the clinic is run by Dr William Burroughs (Ted Atherton, Lost Girl), which I thought was incredibly hokey (Burroughs’ work, especially Naked Lunch being the obvious reference). It also means that Keloid (the key physician in the original) becomes a passing reference rather than anything else.

dead ringer
Rose undergoes experimental stem cell treatment (a pulsating, almost jellyfish like graft) and the graft is described as immortal. In another referential moment the surgical scrubs are luxurious red priest-like robes as featured in Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers. A strange moment through the clinic sequence is a voice over we hear about vampiric interdependence, which kind of just hung there. Nevertheless, the procedure is very successful, not only fixing the new damage to Rose’s face but also the old scar and she no longer needs glasses. We register her hunger through a stomach gurgling as she reveals her healed face. She leaves her room and ends up in a pool and kissing the TV star (Stephen Huszar, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days) who happened to be there. However, she bites his mouth and leaves and is convinced by Burroughs, the next day, that it was nothing but a dream.

She is given medication and a protein supplement (that comes in a content concealing flask and, against all probability, she doesn’t examine the contents until the film’s end, discovering the supplement is blood) and gets control back of her life; finding confidence, a sexuality, regaining her job and Gunter’s admiration as a fledgling designer. However, she also continues to have vivid dreams, perhaps even hallucinations and occasional crippling stomach cramps. She is continuously hungry but can’t keep food down and finds herself drinking myoglobin from meat trays despite being a vegetarian. Meanwhile a mysterious illness is beginning to emerge in the city; like rabies but fast incubating, with the sufferers becoming irrationally violent and highly infectious. The disease might also be mutating.

So, looking at Rose first, she has been warned that she might hallucinate and therefore doesn’t realise her ‘adventures’ are real. Her manner of feeding seems multiple. We see her bite; we see barbs grow on the inside of her mouth (like a leech) and also see her mouth (in a brief reflection) become a wide open maw of doom. The armpit stinger also returns but is more snake like, being somewhat more like the stingers in the Strain than the original film version. This Rose is a much more rounded character than the original and is driven, rather than wandering aimlessly. Laura Vandervoort offers us a nuanced performance but, on the other hand, the script sometimes lets her down. For instance the background of the family car crash is throwaway and the idea that Chelsea’s parents took her in, and the friend is more like a sister, is under-explored despite the relationship feeling well performed by the actresses.

Benjamin Hollingsworth as Brad
Other performances in the film might not be so great. I never got a feeling of malevolence from Burroughs even though he is lying to, and manipulating, Rose and, in fact, knows exactly what is going on. However, most disappointing both as a character and a performance is “love interest” Brad, whose character is bland and whose duplicity is under-developed and thus anti-climatic. The performance is, unfortunately, as bland as the character but, in fairness, Hollingsworth has little to work with. Gunter seems nothing but a caricature but, trooper as he is, Mackenzie Gray does what he can with the character.

victim of the infected
The body horror side is nicely done for the most part; in places impressive, but in other places a little hidden (Rose’s face monstrously opening up, for instance, is lost to virtual silhouette and left much to imagination, when it could have been a great practical effect). I was underwhelmed by the infected, however. In the original film you got the impression of a real epidemic, of danger on the streets. In this the outbreak felt so small, held tight as it was in small sets. A rabid Father Christmas was a nod to the original but lacked the impact of the scene from the original film. We see one infected appear mutated, rather than just infected, after an armpit-stinger feed but this is not really explored at all. The ‘aftermath’ of the epidemic felt too contained and was dealt with off-screen by news-report. If, in the original, we saw the big picture to the detriment of the characters and Rose’s story, in this the big picture becomes lost and there was no real need for that to happen as it wouldn’t have swallowed the character of Rose, if balanced correctly.

reflected body horror
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this despite some of the issues. The problem I mention with the infected is apparent because of the original film and it is likely, had this been an original piece rather than a remake, that the issue might not have registered at all. It answers some of the difficulties with the original, especially and impressively around the Rose character, and yet develops other problems of its own. I liked the stylistic sets, colour schemes, and art work used. In fact, pulling it away from the grittiness of the original and given a superficial sheen that reflected the fashion scene setting, was a great move. I think 6 out of 10 is fair and this underlines my strange relationship with the original movie. I think this is a better constructed horror film (and enjoyable in its own right) but find more raw enjoyment from the original. Part of this has to be down to the originality of Cronenberg’s film compared to the overly referential aspects of this and the fact that it is a remake. All in all, I think my score is right for this but wonder whether my score needs radically adjusting for the original?

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon UK

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