Review: Rabid remake settles for disappointing gross-out spectacle

The Soska Sisters’ reworking of David Cronenberg’s body-horror thriller sells out the movie’s premise


RABID (The Soska Sisters). 107 minutes. Opens Friday (January 31). See listing. Rating: NN


David Cronenberg’s 1977 Rabid is decent enough. It’s not as tight as Shivers, the sex-zombie movie he’d made right before it, and it lacks the gut-wrenching emotional impact of The Brood, the film that followed. 

But Rabid has its share of queasy body-horror moments, and its sense of a city slowly collapsing under the outbreak of a virulent super-rabies – spread unwittingly by a young woman made into a monster by weird science – has a tragic tone that lingers long after the movie ends. 

It’s not a classic, exactly, but there’s something squirming around in there, and you can understand why someone might be drawn to revisit the property and see what might be done with it – in much the same way, say, that Cronenberg himself reinvented a hokey old sci-fi picture called The Fly.

Well, here we are. Or rather here is the new Rabid, and it’s a different beast entirely. Directed and co-written by Jen and Sylvia Soska, it doesn’t remake Cronenberg’s film as much as remix it, lifting a few of its key elements and images and spinning them into a new body that nods to a few of Cronenberg’s other films. The Soskas clearly love and respect the source material, but they have their own thing going on.

The jumping-off point is still the same. After a catastrophic motorcycle accident, innocent Rose (Laura Vandervoort, replacing Marilyn Chambers) is restored to perfect health by experimental surgery, only to be left with a thirst for human blood. 

But her story is now set in the world of haute couture, setting up a dry workplace drama that allows for a few interesting observations about image and power, but also works against the nightmare at the story’s core. 

In a new wrinkle, Rose is far more infectious – casual contact is enough to pass the virus along – though the incubation period is much longer than it was in Cronenberg’s film, meaning it takes much longer for the outbreak to catalyze, and for anyone to realize what’s happening.

As Rose’s would-be saviour, Benjamin Hollingsworth is exactly as effective as Frank Moore was the first time around – which is to say, not at all – while Ted Atherton seriously overplays the creepy scientist vibe as a visionary reconstructive surgeon named, ah, William Burroughs.

Vandervoort does her best to give Rose more depth than the script offers, but it’s an uphill battle. The Soskas seem more interested in Grand Guignol imagery than cohesion, and eventually their Rabid abandons itself entirely to pure gross-out spectacle. Which is fine for the gorehound crowd – and the reliance on practical effects is impressive as well as admirable – but it sells out both the movie’s premise and the actors trapped within it.

@normwilner

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