Written by John Serge, Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska
Directed by The Soska Sisters… Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska
As the poster artwork tells you, RABID is a re-imagining of David Cronenberg’s classic plastic surgery disaster/contagion movie from 1977. Where once you had the porn star Marilyn Chambers (BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR) as Rose Miller, today the Soska Sisters – Jen and Sylvia – lend the name to their lead star Laura Vandervoort (Anna in JIGSAW). The first of many subtle nods the body horror master’s original and his wider canon.
Unlike pillion riding victim of 1977, Rose is her own woman in 2019’s version. The billboard poster of the picture perfect scooter rider, pans down to Rose putting on her helmet over her imperfect visage and zooming off. The near miss as she navigates downtown traffic cocks a snoot at your expectations of a crash you might remember from the original.
Rose is working her way up the food chain of hout-couture – Haüs Of Günter (the brand on the opening billboard). Her demanding boss, Günter, the Germanic diva in a horrendous wig, will cut her no slack and do her even less favours, but she keeps bouncing back for more. Günter, played with absolute vile charm by Mackenzie Gray is the voice of levity and light relief – even when the city is a hostage to unknown disease, fashion must go on. His character proves again and again that you cannot ridicule the ridiculous – and hout-couture is the perfect environment to explore this anomaly in popular culture. Only fine art has as many emperor’s new clothes to show you as this high minded industry.
At the Burrough’s Institute, run by the charismatic Dr Williams Burroughs (a wink to Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH no doubt)...
At the other extreme from Günter is Chelsea – a colleague, supermodel for Haüs Of Günter and busy body foster-sister. She only wants what’s good for Rose, but tends to act first and think later.
Out of the blue photographer and company heart-throb Brad Hart asks Rose out on a date. When she discovers it was a set up by Chelsea she’s naturally upset.
This is the last straw for humiliated Rose and riding home you get the crash you’ve been waiting for. When she comes to, she’s faced with Dr Keloid – another name lifted from the Cronenberg script. Played by PONTYPOOL’s Stephen McHattie, Dr Keloid is not exactly bringing her down gently with the realisation half her face and organs have been mashed and torn. Plus, they’ve wired her jaw shut to assist the healing process.
Chelsea rallies around Rose in the aftermath, but it’s impossible to make amends for the butterfly effect she’s had on her foster sister. With mounting medical bills and no job, Rose is forced into the world of research and development into experimental plastic surgery techniques (or transhumanism as the short advertorial explains to you).
At the Burrough’s Institute, run by the charismatic Dr Williams Burroughs (a wink to Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH no doubt) she is offered the cutting edge (pun intended) in plastic surgery for free if she’s happy to be a human guinea pig. Here is where the two versions of Rabid align for a brief moment. While Cronenberg might’ve been predicting a future of plastic surgery on every corner, like a Burger King, the Soska Sisters are able to say that that nightmare vision is in full swing. Their future prediction of immortalised skin points to an even bigger God complex problem for people in the medical profession trying to solve the oldest trick in the book – aging and death.
Rose’s operation scene, with the doctors and staff dressed in satin red scrubs, could make you believe you’ve stumbled into a DEAD RINGERS remake.
He [Greg Bryk] positively steals this sequence from all around him in this first major flesh-ripping scene...
Post op everything changes for Rose. Like all insidious forces the beginning is gentle. She’s fixed beyond all belief, but something’s not right. Her stomach gurgles, representing a yearning for blood that she’ll soon find out - a vicious irony for a character that was a militant vegetarian at the start of the film.
Her first taste of the red stuff is a soap actor she meets in Burrough’s Institute. A day later, he’s infected and destroys the filming of the latest episode of his – irony of ironies - hospital drama. However, all the praise here is reserved for Greg Bryk, who plays the TV show’s director. He positively steals this sequence from all around him in this first major flesh-ripping scene. A clear sign that like the first one, Rose is the carrier of an unknown strain of rabies.
The effect on Rose is very different in 2019. Where she became stuck in a vicious cycle of feed and withdrawals like a heroin addict in the 1977 version, the Soska Sisters free Rose from her social anxiety and insecurities. The surgery has made her more relaxed and released a creative spirit she was suppressing and Gunter spots it. Her bête noir is now her biggest champion. Such is the fickle hand of fate (or is it fashion?). Unbeknownst to her, the disease she carries spreads across the city at a rapid rate. In a darkly comedic nod to Cronenberg’s original, police shoot a man in a Santa Claus outfit during one bloody sequence in the hospital.
21st century RABID is much more than a movie love in with one of the greats of the genre. The Soska Sisters successfully steer the big idea of RABID into places that allow them to tell their own nightmare horror vision. They intertwine the vacuous desires to be someone else/something else that the fashion and plastic surgery industries perpetuate. Early on Rose is downtrodden and going nowhere, but she wants to succeed. She says to Chelsea: “I love the way clothes make you feel … You can be anything you want.” The word ‘clothes’ in this context can be swapped out for ‘plastic surgery’ and the sentiment wouldn’t change.
If immortality is the end game for the human race, as RABID 2019 suggests then an ability to change and reinvent yourself is going to be the only way to make it bearable… Thank you Soska Sisters for the harrowing prospect that this life never ends. It really is a fate worse than death.