When it comes to body horror, few directors can compare to David Cronenberg, a legend in his field who is adored by horror fans around the world. When people talk of the 80’s being that wonderful time when deliciously gory practical effects were just coming in to their own, Cronenberg didn’t just come along as part of that, he was one of the most prominent voices in the bloody push for more extreme cinema, with more than one of his films hitting the now-long-extinct “Video Nasties” list.
But it wasn’t until Cronenberg remade The Fly that he became something of a household name. His tortuous transformation of Jeff Goldblum into the gooey and gross “Brundlefly” sits atop of the list of some of the most disgusting movie moments that isn’t just for horror fans to talk about. The Fly is a household name.
It seems fitting then, that the new answer to body horror in cinema, Jen and Sylvia Soska – affectionately known as the twisted twins – should be the ones to remake one of David Cronenberg’s original films for a more modern audience.
Somewhat of a wallflower, Rose Miller (Laura Vandervoort – Jigsaw) has aspirations to be a world famous, world class designer. But seemingly destined to always play second fiddle to others because her looks aren’t up to the standards set by those at the top, the young woman is in desperate need of a twist of fate.
When Rose is in a horribly disfiguring traffic accident, she opts to have experimental stem cell surgery in a last ditch attempt to save her looks. Surgery that, as it happens, is more of a success than anyone could have imagined.
Rose now finds herself leading two lives. One where her surgery rewarded her with perfect beauty that is opening doors she never imagined being able to go through. And one where something inside her body is changing and those changes are trying to get out and feed. Whether she fights it, or embraces it, is what will eventually decide her fate.
There are no two better directors to bring this re-imagined classic to life. The Soska’s love and passion for body horror in all its forms means that they grew up fans not just of the original, but of the director that helped pave the way for the classic gore filled cinema that helped defined their style some three decades later. It’s that devotion and respect for David Cronenberg and his legacy that shines brightest in Rabid.
In 1977, Rabid was a scathing look at cosmetic surgery and the people that would willingly do anything to get it. To make themselves more desirable or to fix what was on the outside hoping to hide what was on the inside. Cronenberg took those sensibilities and shined a bright light on them – covers them in blood – for all to see. 42 years later, Jen and Sylvia Soska have shifted that lens from the male led fantasied we have gotten used to seeing, to a much more female fronted glance at the world we live in today. It’s a change that is desperately needed in today’s climate and one that these directors have embraced with every frame of their latest film.
Audiences will feel the anger seething in those behind the camera and those writing the script every time Rose’s employer – fashion designer Gunter (Mackenzie Gray – Man of Steel) – digs and prods at her for any slight little thing he can pick up on. The fury hits its highest notes when he catches a glimpse of Rose fresh from surgery and suddenly opens his world up for her. Because she has the perfect, societally expected, beauty he can now use, he has time for her. It is a purposely infuriating theme that runs though almost every post-surgery encounter Rose has. But it makes her gory, lethal retorts to these confrontations all the more satisfying to watch.
As things get bad for Rose; both in the immediate aftermath of her accident and after her miraculous recovery, there is a stellar make up and special effects department working hard behind the scenes to gross you out. The first look at the wannabe designer’s injuries – with her jaw wired shut and large bits of her cheek missing – is a horrifying moment for the audience to witness made all the more real by the terrifying makeup applied to Vandervoort’s mouth and cheek. If that wasn’t enough, the star’s visceral reaction to her reflection, superbly put in front of us by a protagonist who at this point isn’t allowed the blood-curdling scream you would get if her jaw wasn’t wired shut.
Audiences are forced to live through the worst thing to ever happen to Rose just get worse. If a car accident that almost mortally disfigures you isn’t bad enough, forced to communicate through pad and pen, losing her job because she had the audacity to be in hospital – the rage that The Soska’s and Dead On Campus writer John Serge illicit at the moment her best friend comes in with a silver lining, will have viewers fighting NOT to scream “what the absolute fuck?” Rarely has such a moment designed to bring the rage out of the audience hit so perfectly.
In Vandervoort, the film has a main character that audiences can truly get behind. We struggle with her, we’re angry for her, and we are rooting for her as the minutes roll on and her predicament becomes clear. The Supergirl actor knows her craft and whether we are spending time with her before the accident, or stalking for kills or anything in between, she convinces is of her angst at every beat.
Others on screen don’t quite hit the same level of quality, sadly. The always great Stephen McHattie (Come to Daddy) is a shining light as Rose’s doctor, but we unfortunately get to spend little time with him. Hanneke Talbot (Star Trek: Discovery) is perfectly fine as Chelsea and the Soskas have a load of fun with their bitchy scene. But additions like former WWE superstars CM Punk and AJ Mendez will leave some wondering why they are there. As she always is though, Tristan Risk (American Mary) is a joy to watch. So much so that she was not just given multiple cameo sized parts, but was the gorgeous and gruesome payoff that the entire film leads to.
Jen and Sylvia Soska love their chosen career, and they love horror films, and they love David Cronenberg. Their take on Rabid shows this more than any of their films before it. Fans will spot nods to the gore-master’s films peppered through their latest piece, from Dead Ringers to The Brood, there is something to bring a wry smile to any fans face.
While Rabid might not hit the lofty high watermark set by American Mary, the directing duo have taken a film that was thematically very much of its time and updated it brilliantly for ours today. Pulling no punches in what they want to say, Rabid should leave everyone a little uncomfortable in their seat. The Soskas have lovingly recreated David Cronenberg’s classic for a modern audience without it feeling like a remake. Instead of remaking, re-imagining or reinventing the legendary director’s vision, from themes, to look and feel, what we have here is a brand new David Cronenberg film.