GRIMMFEST 2019: Rabid – movie review

Rabid. Image credit, courtesy of Grimmfest

I’ve been granted press accreditation for the 11th Grimmfest, the Manchester’s International Festival of Fantastic Film. So, I had the opportunity to watch and review a bunch of upcoming horror movies. This is my review of Rabid (Canada, Jen & Sylvia Soska, horror).


101 Films presents Rabid on Blu-ray & DVD 7 October

Pre-order from 101 Films store:

Rabid. Image credit, courtesy of Grimmfest 2019
Rabid – Blu-Ray. Image credit, courtesy of 101 Films

As a big fan of David Cronenberg, I wouldn’t want many of his classic films to be remade. As much as I love Rabid (1977), however, I would always have been fine with seeing a modern reinterpretation of that movie: the original Rabid is a low-budget, fascinating and deep body-horror classic, but it suffers from pacing issues, subpar acting and overall dated feel. The concept of that film, in fact, deserved to be updated for modern audiences: who could do 1977 Rabid justice better than the Twisted Sisters? Aside from directing the now-cult classic American Mary (2012), Jen and Sylvia Soska are the perfect fit to take on a body-horror flick from the 70s and turn it into something worthwhile in 2019. Which is why I listed Rabid among my most anticipated horror films of 2019.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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From the very beginning, it’s clear how much passion and care The Soska Sisters put into this project: the remake of Rabid starts with a very meta statement about remakes, distinguishing between those made for a quick buck and to appeal to masses, and those that actually care to reinterpret a successful source material to make something interesting and genuine with it. This opening is, at the same time, useful to draw parallels between the horror industry and the fashion industry, which functions as the setting of Rabid.

In fact, this movie follows fashion designer Rose Miller (Laura Vandervoort) who, after suffering from a disfiguring traffic accident, undergoes a radical and untested stem-cell treatment. The experimental transformation is a miraculous success, transforming her into a ravishing beauty. As one can imagine, though, the treatment comes with dreadful side effects, as Rose soon develops an uncontrollable sexual appetite, resulting in several torrid encounters, which sees her lovers become rabid carriers of death and disease. As the illness mutates and the contagion spreads out of control, all hell breaks loose as the infected rampage through the city on a violent and gruesome killing spree.

Rabid is a movie that truly doesn’t hold back: the film is gory, unflinching and (finally!) delves into the abyss of body-horror, a sub-genre that has been seemingly forgotten lately – aside from a few worthy exceptions such as The Void (2016) and Let Her Out (2017).

What this movie succeeds the most at is to build a 105-minute-long viewing experience that’s totally off-beat and different from pretty much every other horror movie released nowadays. Even though this refreshing approach can feel jarring at times, with pacing issues that lead the viewer from an exhilarating sequence to a scene that unfolds quite slowly, it still manages to grab the audience’s attention by showing them something they haven’t been used to since the 70s and early 80s.

Rabid does a great job at recreating the look and feel of the original film, down to its unique storytelling, but it also improves it on a visual level due to polished production values and crisp cinematography: there isn’t a single shot, here, that feels stale or uninspired. The camera work is spot on, with the presence of long continuous takes that enhance the sense of threat by immersing the viewer into the story. The use of colours and different camera angles also help making the world of Rabid feel vibrant and real, hiding the fact that there aren’t a lot of extras in the movie. The attention to details is evident, for example, in those scenes that take place in nightclubs and crowded locations: unlike most subpar movies, here these places are loud and chaotic, which leads the audience to believe they’re real locations.

The other show-stealer in Rabid is the practical effects, from the jaw-dropping horrific makeup to the marvellous FX work done in the gory and gruesome sequences. These effects enhance in the best way possible Laura Vadervoot’s performance: she carries the whole film on her shoulders and her acting is particularly effective when she only has her eyes and mannerism to work with, due to the disfiguring makeup on the lower part of her face.

Yet, the way violence and gore unfold in the film is very climactic and leads to an ending that is truly worth of the most successful movies by Cronenberg.

Despite being a very good, captivating movie, there are quite a few elements preventing Rabid from being a great picture: as I said before, the pacing can feel extremely jarring at times. The first 13 minutes of the film, in particular, could’ve been trimmed down to a montage-like opening without losing any significance. The way the rabid epidemy spreads is, also, very rushed and leaves you with the desire to know more: the sometimes-unnecessary focus on the fashion industry could’ve been cut out of the movie to leave more room for the epidemy aspect.

Although most of the major players in Rabid do a great job, there are some characters that feel more like caricatures. Mackenzie Grey as Gunter, for example, comes off as a complete cartoon and over-the-top character, whose line-delivery feels almost laughable at times.

Even though this film goes for a different approach compared to the original, the lack of any social commentary feels like a wasted opportunity, given how much importance it’s put on the fashion industry: the whole sub-plot about fashion, while integral to Rose’s character, is really useless in terms of the story and only takes the attention (and time) away from what could’ve been an interesting and gruesome exploration of the rabid epidemic.

Still, I’m very pleased with Rabid and I think most fans of gory, bloody horror flicks will appreciate it. It’s an entertaining, well-directed and visually interesting horror film that definitely feels edgier than most widely available horror movies nowadays.

Rabid                                                  7/10

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