I almost didn’t bother giving this movie a chance.
I typically avoid reading movie reviews prior to new releases, mostly because these so-called “professional reviews” are nothing but pissing contests to see who can get the most clicks from their oh-so-witty headlines. We’re a sad pack of losers, us reviewers. Don’t trust a word we say.
The reason I almost didn’t give Jen and Sylvia Soska’s Rabid a chance is because the early criticism wasn’t coming from critics, but from people I trust. These people are horror movie fans who talk as loudly about the movies they love as they do about the movies they hate, and if a movie has even a shred of merit they’ll tell their friends to at least give it a fighting chance. They didn’t have many positive things to say about Rabid, which is a reimagining of David Cronenberg’s 1977 sophomore slump, and that almost deterred my curiosity.
Thank God I had some Christmas money to burn…because otherwise I would’ve missed out on a pretty great movie.
The Soska Sisters’ Rabid borrows very lightly from the original Cronenberg film. At least two-thirds of this movie is their own invention, and Cronenberg’s concept is only the sexy pale flesh on this quirky and violent beast.
I think the decision to avoid directly re-creating Cronenberg’s work was wise. Historically, Cronenberg doesn’t much like the idea of other directors touching his stories. During an episode of The Movie Crypt Podcast, director Darren Lynn Bousman said that during an encounter with Cronenberg he briefly mentioned the idea of remaking Scanners, and Cronenberg very curtly said “Stay away from that movie.” But the Soska Sisters made their leap to fame with their body horror film American Mary, and as horror directors go, they’ve long since made their bones.
Rabid isn’t the best remake I’ve seen, but it’s not as terrible as some people have said. I think the biggest thing working against this movie is that most diehard horror fans have seen Cronenberg’s original movie, and even if they didn’t love it (or even like it…let’s be honest) they’ll take every opportunity to point out the changes in a remake. Change is a scary thing for horror fans; we hate it when someone smudges our pristine memories of a movie with their own dirty fingerprints. Although I don’t expect my words to change anyone’s mind about the Soska Sisters’ Rabid, I hope I can at least convince you to give this change-heavy movie a chance.
The humor in this movie worked for me, and I felt happiest with it when the convoluted plot was put aside in favor of practical gore effects and visual candy provided by MASTERSFX and Steve Kostanski (The Void). There are some truly magnificent moments in this movie, and the thing that seems to ruin a lot of them is the need for expository dialogue, weak character development, and a very long and boring first act. The first gore effect in the film, which is Rose’s (Laura Vandervoort) mutilated face after an accident, was already ruined for most of us by the internet. If I’d been seeing that makeup effect for the very first time, maybe the first third of the movie wouldn’t have felt so stretched out. Alas, shit happens.
If you can get through the first third of the movie without tuning out, you’re rewarded by gore galore and a rather large effect that I was surprised the Soskas pulled off. Among other goodies, there’s even a brief cameo from contortionist "Twisty" Troy James ("Channel Zero", Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Hellboy).
I think a large part of Rabid was meant to be social commentary on beauty standards and how obsession with beauty can lead to monstrous behavior, but that message didn’t land quite as well as it could’ve. For this, I blame the cartoonishly bland supporting characters. I think a few roles could’ve been heavily truncated or cut out of the script completely without robbing the story of anything worth saving.
The ending was pretty neat, but in a very Resident Evil sort of way. I wish there had been more justification for this ending, because although it was enjoyable and visually compelling, it wasn’t really earned. The original film’s ending was somehow even worse, so I’ll give Jen and Sylvia Soska points for at least giving us something different.
And “different” is the goal of this movie. One of the earliest lines of dialogue is about the importance of standing out and being something different and I suppose this is an overt way of telling audiences to have an open mind. This idea could’ve been taken much, much further, and I wish it would’ve lived up to its potential. Maybe they’ll get another chance someday and remake The Fly, which was Cronenberg’s own attempt at remaking a poorly-aged movie.
If you’re a rock n’ roll fan, you’ve probably seen a lot of okay-ish tribute bands who emulate the energy of Kiss, Motley Crue, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. The Soska Sisters’ Rabid is a bit like one of these bands; the love for the music is there, but they rarely hit the vocals and lack the proper theatrics.
I give Rabid 6.5/10 health shakes.
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