Rabid is a remake by the Soska (Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska) sisters of the Cronenberg 1977 cult classic. It is rare to say that you can watch a remake without having seen the original, but this even works on its own I think. In this sense it is a re-imagining not a remake. From all the recent art horror remakes, especially 2018 Suspiria, I like this one the best.
Also from all the recent glam fashion horror that stick out as pure exercises in style which is perfectly ok, such as Neon Demon or the self-reflexive art world satires such as Velvet Buzzaw, I prefer this one. It is somehow in tow with Raw, Black Swan or Starry Eyes, or even Brian de Palma’s Passion.
When I say it is not a just rehash on the older Cronenberg – although choke-full or references, I do not especially care if it is a faithful homage or not, in fact it should be as unfaithful as a skin graft to its donor. Rabid 2019 is a new chapter in the exploitation of abortive new flesh, artificial lab grown tissues and liveliness of unwanted grafts. Fashioning oneself and fashioning others via proteins as well as wardrobes links to a larger pursuit of bodily success on par with financial one, good looks, malade beauty and catwalk Schadenfreude. The secretive reclusive 70s Keloid Clinic for Plastic Surgery shifts into a new big money Transhumanist enterprise with more defined Immortalist creepy ideals & skin graft wet dream. It not just catwalk horror, it is full with inserts, cameos, even TV sitcom moments, combined a lot of goofy gore, a lot of splattershtick that would make Sam Raimi proud, dismemberment, trembling foaming bodies, it’s a mess, and this I like. Even if over the top, I like the Burroughs-Frankenstein moments and direct quote, the fact that he seems to loom large over the power and control issues of the present.
Like in the high bureau corporate melodrama Passion, it plays on the highly pressurized and pasteurized, the toxic competitive job environments that capitalism is so good at fostering, all prone to back-stabbings, cancellations and public humiliations, everything that the Internet pundits and social platform critics abhor, the propensity to use exposure, shaming, revenge porn, character assassination, sextortion, dank humor, every vulnerabiliy transubstiantiated into some sort of easy satisfaction, gain or trade for LULZ. What is not apparent in the techno panic version is exactly how this plays out for the silent or the subaltern. When it’s not the boss making a point, they permit a cheeky contestation, pointing skilfully the faults of another in public, the reading, shade in queer or afro- code switching and the schadenfreude joy this brings, hacking of the very codes of competition allows such dissing of the powerful. Ultimately rabid bodies are eminently white, with greedy clinics catering for such clientele.
The Soska sisters really brought this new cosmetic ideal to Rabid, in a lusty, Mask of the Red Death-like over the top full of gory humor way. This has an overlay with contagion from pre Covid 19 era that blends into now, that I consider particularly helpful in the context of the epidemic as spectacle, as hype and fashion trend not just as scare.
This was already there in Cronenberg and his interest in the stylishness of disease, the aesthetic and erotic appeal of bruises, laboratory chic, cool steel instrumentalism, clinics as new health temples and the surgical design being the new embalming of the dead alive rich etc but here they all contribute and prepare for the catwalk of disease. The wellness clinic is a ramp, and when it does so, it not only pampers the celebs and the rich, but infects everything around, nurtures the monster under folds of custom flesh. Both the cool interiors & medical devices are in contrast with the burning, scarlet red, hellish color of costumes, hidden floor levels, flesh corridors, blood iso drinks.
I especially enjoyed the relationship of delicate Sadeian Rose(perfect name), the quiet, mousy Rose that nevertheless is scarified by various accidents, horrible if ridiculous events- her perfect face already a broken mirror, and her expansive ‘friend’; the truly overpowering and obnoxious protector. I felt this has very much to do with how charities or rich donors actually play their goodness drowning their objects of care that they pick up from the gutter like little puppies to be offered the best. One does not bite the hand that feeds or caresses you no?
I like how all the characters have something repulsive in their goodness, how in this world of charitable rich people everything is “mercy-fucking” and “free experimental treatment” with no price tag attached, almost everything appears like a favor to the poor, luxury crutches for the down trodden, poisoned cups for the forsaken.