Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Rabid (2019)

Run, Rabid, Run

2019 USA Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska
World Premiere screening at FrightFest on Monday 26th August

Warning: Some very slight spoilerage here if you’ve not seen Cronenberg’s original.

Wow... just wow. Turns out that the last film I saw at FrightFest this year was also the one that took the cake and really rocked it. And I really wasn’t expecting that. I’d kind of only half appreciated the Soska Sisters’ movie I’d seen prior to this, American Mary (reviewed by me here). I wasn’t all that keen on it and a quick reread of my old review makes me come across as somewhat jaded. So I was quite worried about this film for a couple of reasons.

One thing was the trailer... which really does nothing for me and, I think, almost undersells just how remarkably good this new incarnation inspired by David Cronenberg’s classic (which I recently reviewed here) actually is. I honestly wasn’t sure about shelling out for a ticket for this one on the strength of that but then I remembered the exclusive footage I’d seen from this presented at last year’s Halloween Edition of FrightFest and thinking it was pretty great. And then, of course, I found out The Banana Splits Movie was playing before this and I had to see that (my review of that one is here) and so I figured, what the heck, I’m going to see this new version of Rabid, too.

And I’m so glad I did because, right from the opening shot, the Soska Sisters suckered me into accepting their new take on this even while I was aware of the manipulation tactics they were lovingly employing to make sure the Cronenberg fans were kept on board and happy with what they were doing here. And I mean quite literally the opening shot, which starts off with a leather jacket clad girl standing by her motorcycle... just as Marilyn Chambers did in the original, before panning down and away to reveal that it’s actually a billboard advertisement (shame it wasn’t an ad for Ivory Snow, I guess). We see the main protagonist/antagonist of this movie, Rose (played by Laura Vandervoort) standing by her own modest scooter and looking up at the advertisement before riding off to her job as a staff, fashion designer for a conceited fashion superstar called Gunter (played by Mackenzie Gray).

As she approaches her work area we hear Gunter giving a speech and, again, I suspect this is all about the Soska Sisters wanting to make the Croneneberg fans feel comfortable because he’s talking about ways of remaking oneself... while it also taps nicely into both the body horror theme of the story and the idea of his upcoming ‘Schadenfreude Collection’. So, yeah, it was overt but by this point the idea of being open to a remake was slowly settling in with me. I’m pretty hit and miss on remakes myself... everybody loves the third version of The Maltese Falcon with Bogart, for example but, if you are going to be remaking stuff like Ringu then you’d better watch out, as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, over the next few scenes the characters such as Rose’s best friend and model Chelsea (played here by Hanneke Talbot) and the potential boyfriend Dominic (played by Stephen Huszar) are introduced and Rose’s back story is also fleshed out a little before we get into the main first incident which sparks all that follows, which people who know the original will remember is a motorcycle accident and there is a variant of that here. The nice thing about this was that the directors appear in a few cameo scenes at a party and, due to something they are saying in a toilet cubicle, overheard by Rose, they kinda become the catalyst of all that is to follow because Rose is not left in a stable mindset after this scene.

So after this, things run pretty similarly to the original movie in terms of the main plot focus... the accident happens and a new form of living skin graft is applied to what is left of Rose’s grizzly, hollowed out face and torso. And after things take their course we have the craving for blood, spells of amnesia and, of course, the attacks which begin and, as in the original, escalate on their own independently of Rose who is the carrier of a viral, “don’t mess with me big time” version of rabies. And all I will say as to what Rose becomes in this is... well, you remember those little armpit stingers in the original? I was wondering if the directors would run with that concept here or do their own thing as a replacement and, without getting into spoilers, all I am saying is that this film doesn’t do anything small. And I’ll  leave that for you to discover.

In terms of how the film plays.... well it’s just beautiful. Vibrant, sometimes almost primary colours and shot set ups with a Bavaesque quality to them which eschew some of the more coldly clinical moments of Cronenbergism while simultaneously enhancing the content of key scenes where a sequence might be washed in a dominant green or red playing in contrast to the preceding scene.

Added to this you’ve got a lot of strong performances in here and in terms of the story and dialogue... well it mostly does the same kinda thing but it reaches its end goals in a way which, I think, is more in tune to the way stories are explored and presented now as opposed to, obviously, the late 1970s. Which is absolutely right for this because... who wants to see a so called remake when it just does exactly the same thing as the original, which is its own entity entirely? This one tries to take the essence of Cronenberg’s ideas but makes it more direct and takes its time more in certain areas and rushes through other bits which don’t seem so important in this vision of the tale. Again, it feels like this was the right way to do this and I think this new version is different enough that it would make for a good cinematic double bill with the first version playing right before it.

And, as I said earlier, this one shouldn’t alienate those who are big Croneneberg fans. There are a lot of visual and textual references to his world scattered throughout. For instance, the surgical gowns in the operating room presided over by... ahem... Dr. William Burroughs (played by Ted Atherton) are a deliberate echo of the surgical gowns worn by Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers... as are the names of the characters played by the Soska Sisters in this, Bev and Ellie. And there are quite a few little nods in this to keep enthusiasts for the work of Mr. C on their toes, such as a shop Santa Claus being gunned down, just like in the original (but for slightly different reasons). One which I’m not 100% sure was deliberate or just me imagining things, is when Dr. Burrough’s wife turns up near the end of the film. I’m skirting around specifics here because of spoilers but the visual look of some of the scenes she is in reminded me somewhat of a reveal right at the end of The Brood. Like I said, though, I’m not sure if that was on purpose or just me getting too near to my bedtime.

Oh... and Claude Foisy’s score works a charm here and is certainly a lot better than the needle dropped tracks on the original Rabid. It’s a shame that this thing isn’t on a CD because I would rush out and buy it (or, you know, my fingers would rush to the internet to grab it) and I’d similarly do the same thing with his score to Pontypool (reviewed here) if it was around on physical media. It’s one of those scores which has moments of great beauty interspersed with an almost industrial grating, ragged style of musical colour and it’s really much more appropriate to this film than what was used in Cronenberg’s original.

If I had one criticism of this version I’d say the ending, which is quite a bit different from the 1977 one, due to the fact that by this point the character of Rose is now quite self aware of what she has become, maybe missed the best part to just stop at. There was a moment near the end where she does something and I thought... “Yes. Good ending! This is precisely what she should do here.” Alas, the scene has a follow up where things are somewhat compromised in terms of how Rose is left and I felt it diluted things a little but, honestly, it’s a very minor criticism of what I shall be proclaiming to people is the Soska’s great masterpiece (with many more to follow, I’m sure) and I can kinda see why this particular ending would also have been a desirable one. It'll grow on me.

Okay... I think I’m drying up on things to say about this because I really need to see it again and study it properly for a few more hits and, alas, it doesn’t come out on Blu Ray here until October... although I think this would have done well as a full cinema release over here, for sure. This is one of the most beautiful looking horror movies made in the last few years and it doesn’t skimp on the gore here either... which is kind of a bonus when it’s done as well as this. Whether you are familiar with the wonderful original version of Rabid or not, this new film deserves your attention. I was, as you can probably tell by now, really bowled over by the Soska Sisters' movie here (who did their Q&A wearing the same dresses as they wear in the film) and I really can’t wait to see where they are going next. Guess it’s about time I ordered their first movie to have a look at on the strength of this one. I’ll try and get that one watched and reviewed sometime next year. Check out Rabid though because... you know... it’s kind of sensational and everything I didn’t think it could be.

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