Rabid, itself a remake, opens with a fashion designer talking about trends and remaking things that have gone before. ‘Why do we keep remaking old trends?’ he asks, ‘How are we breathing new life into the old? Are we adding something new?’ These are all questions that fans of David Cronenberg’s original, as well as those irked by Hollywood’s insistence on remaking everything, will have asked themselves. With this scene, The Soska Sisters are shining a light on themselves and the film, and in doing so are opening themselves up to this line of questioning. Fortunately, this version of the film breathes in new life with a modern shift into the image-obsessed world of fashion and adds plenty of freshness whilst still being respectful to what audiences have seen before.
Leading the story is Smallville and V star, Laura Vandervoort. She plays aspiring, but cripplingly timid, fashion designer Rose. After getting into an accident that leaves her horribly disfigured, she signs up to an experimental new treatment. The procedure is a resounding success, but it soon becomes clear that Rose isn’t quite the same as she once was. As she begins her transformation into a new more confident woman, she unknowingly begins to leave behind a host of victims in her wake, victims with a ravenous desire for others.
As with American Mary, which cemented Katharine Isabelle as a genre star, Rabid sees Laura Vandervoort earn her credibility. She’s no stranger to the genre, having appeared in episodes of Goosebumps as a child, and in more recent years, led werewolf drama series Bitten and played an important role in Jigsaw. Here she is like nothing that we’ve seen from her before, turning in a mesmerising and empathetic performance. There is the same duality of character that the actor seems drawn to, but it’s explored in a more interesting manner than ‘by day she’s Kara Kent and by night she’s Supergirl’, or underneath her human appearance she’s really a giant lizard. When we first meet Rose, she is a shy timid creature, you can tell there’s frustration under the surface, but her restraint keeps that in check. Once her treatment begins, these guarded layers of reservation and politeness are stripped away, revealing an empowered woman finally in touch with herself.
Any good body horror only works if the transition is handled correctly. If you transition too quickly you run the risk of falling into silliness and over-extending yourself, yet if you wait too long, the audience will become bored and the final reveal won’t have the same impact. Thankfully the Soskas know exactly what they are doing and find that sweet spot. It’s almost immediately clear that there’s something off about Rose following her revolutionary treatment, but the scope of its effect is kept hidden. We get a little hint here and a nod there, the Soskas building the mystery and suspense masterfully, before offering longer glimpses at what’s going on beneath the surface, then quickly pulling back again. This constant back and forth teases the viewer, much like Rose herself with her unsuspecting victims, working them up into a frenzy and not letting them release until its too late.
Rabid also looks gorgeous. The lighting is fantastically sumptuous, adding sensuality and atmosphere. The production is top notch, and the sisters do a brilliant job of highlighting their beloved Canada as the backdrop to the story. The make-up effects are, as with American Mary, of a high calibre and far too realistic to watch on an empty stomach.
After a couple of projects that didn’t fully demonstrate their full potential, the Soska’s are back on form with this visceral dark fairy-tale, one that puts them firmly back on the horror radar as filmmakers to watch. Seductive, sensual, and gory as Hell, Rabid is a rare example of a remake worthy of your time.
This review was first published on THN. Rabid is available on Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD now, and will debut of Horror Channel at 9pm on 12th June 2021.