Horrors most infamous twins ‘The Soska Sisters’ unleash their highly anticipated reimagining of Cronenberg’s 1977 classic ‘Rabid’. An interesting (and somewhat brave) choice of movie to give an update to, as the original very much showcases the iconic directors typically clinical style of ‘body horror’ whilst effectively flirting with other horror-esk themes. The 2019 film starts in a similar vein, but very much takes the ‘body horror content to new grotesque heights in its conclusive act.
I feel the results could be interestingly polarising.
The plot opens with the downtrodden Rose, a misunderstood fashion guru, as she struggles to wrangle her own integrity within an industry which, if depiction here is to be believed, has none; hell, even when Rose finally catches a break and gets asked out by her crush, things aren’t quite on the level. Following her disappointing date, her misfortunes hit their peak when she is involved in a scooter collision which leaves her alive, but with some serious damage to her face and jaw.
With her disfigurement well beyond the realms of what plastic surgery could put right, Rose is referred to a specialist clinic, her fees paid in full if she agrees to take part in the clinic’s human trials of their propriety cutting edge treatments.
Following the treatments Rose emerges a new woman, that said, there are some side-effects, namely a thirst for blood and some additional appendages – comme ci comme ça!
Stylistically the films first half is stunning. Not only is the acting solid, the pacing and attention to detail with the cinematography really gives the film its own style, whilst at the same time giving off all sorts of Cronenberg vibes. The whole fashion show back drop allows a flamboyancy and degree of edginess which comes across almost 1970s European in its theme allowing contemporary to blend nicely with a retro feel, without things becoming pretentious or overly camp.
The visual effects of Rose’s initial condition are equally as impressive – seriously gruesome, but without straying into splatter territory; in my opinion a crucial ingredient to differentiating body horror from other sub-genres. Watching her struggle with her debilitating state only emphasises how well pitched the films character centred first act was.
Following her ‘treatment’ Roses gradual change, both in attitude and physically, is subtle at first with some seriously shocking and grotesque imagery and stand-out scenes which just show how this style of horror can really pack a punch – in the right hands of course. Loved it. The films first hour or so is frankly stunning with the perfect marriage of style, substance and practical effects. The body horror elements, with Rose developing extra rows of teeth and retractable ‘stingers’ look as amazing as they do grim. Not only a decent homage to the film’s influences, but stunning in their own right.
That said, as I mentioned in my opener, the film’s final third marks something of a contrasting departure. From subtle, moody and stylised, the film drops its attention to detail on plot/character development in favour of a louder more brash approach, taking the film form gruesome to seriously gruesome. How you take this, naturally, will depend on your preferences.
The film brings to the foreground some zombie style themes as those unlucky enough to encounter Rose turn ‘rabid’ and then, not content with the ample crimson shown in those scenes, and those that have come before it, Rose’s anatomical ‘extras’ develop well beyond the aforementioned teeth and stingers – think tentacles, which look disturbingly phallic, and towards the end full mutation which look like you would expect to see from sci-fi horror franchises (think of ‘Dead Space’ games and you won’t be far off).
It’s hard to sum up my feelings here to be honest, but I will do my best.
These effects do look amazing, and they certainly deliver the bang-for-buck on the grue that the Soska sisters have based a career on delivering. That said I don’t think that you can argue, they do offer a contrast to the films initial style; a contrast which takes the film from a slickly produced body-horror to one where I couldn’t help think, this is what the original had would have ended up should it have been helmed by Sam Raimi in his prime!
Concluding in either style is far from bad, but your preferences will definitely determine your impressions of the film as a whole.
Overall, as a horror fan checking this movie out is a no-brainer, it’s definitely one of my favourite genre-films this year to date. As I’ve discussed, its OTT final acts will see its success likely restricted to genre fans, and perhaps see the film dismissed as a schlock effort by stoic fans of the original, but I would certainly think people would be missing out if they didn’t give the disc a spin to make their own minds up. Certainly, this was the furthest thing away from a cash-in on the namesake of an already established genre favourite, and a film which only further cements the Soska sisters as one (two) of horrors hottest properties right now.