RABID *** Canada 2019 Dir: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska. 107 mins
The first line in the Soska sisters’ RABID is about remaking art. The 2019 incarnation of Rose (Laura Vandervoort) is a repressed vegan fashion designer with aspirations of fame and a shallow British “sister” (Hanneke Talbot) whose insights include “nothing stays as good as skinny feels”. Rose is knocked off her bike after a humiliating date at an after-show party and wakes up with her jaw wired shut and part of her intestinal tract missing. This RABID takes significantly longer getting to the point than its concise predecessor, casting the great Stephen McHattie as Dr. Keloid without giving him much to do. In the first of many nods to Cronenberg, Rose has treatment at the Burroughs clinic where William (Ted Atherton) and his wife Cynthia (a cameo from SHIVERS’ Lynn Lowry) oversee experimental regenerative medical treatments. This Rose transforms from a scarred, boyfriend less doormat into a beautiful, confident woman given a new lease of life thanks to “immortal skin grafts”, no longer struggling to get into elite nightclubs and becoming a magnet for chauvinists and misogynists while shagging soap opera hunk Stephen Huszar. A key character observes “You know you’re pretty now, right, and you don’t have to be nice…” for anyone that needs the major theme spelled out.
Vandervoort impressively pulls off the metamorphosis as Rose develops a more elaborate version of Marilyn Chambers’ phallic armpit monster, craving blood and instigating a rapidly spreading virus. It’s played longer and straighter than the 1977 movie, with neat observational bits (a male idiot too busy taking cell phone pics of an ailing Rose to either help her or save himself) and the kind of graphic gore Cronenberg would have relished had he access to 2019 gore fx. That said, a scene of catwalk carnage shows too much restraint and the original’s great mall Santa gag loses impact with its location change. The new script references three decades worth of widely reported diseases and the planet’s over-consumption of meat but the Soskas’ AMERICAN MARY was a wittier, more concise and better written Cronenberg-infused study of body image. The fangirl references to the old RABID, DEAD RINGERS and SHIVERS are distracting and, despite impressive visual touches, it lacks the zest and mischievous sense of intellectual fun that the Cronenberg body horrors had in spades.
Review by Steven West