There was a moment in fashion back in 2001 when Alexander McQueen confronted the hypocrisies of the industry with his Asylum show. He literally held up a mirror to those in charge with a final reveal that recreated Joel-Peter Witkin’s Sanitarium. It paid homage to astonishing artwork while also furiously challenging unobtainable beauty standards. With their latest film, a remake of David Cronenberg’s 1977 horror, the Soska Sisters aim for something similar with reverent nods to the Canadian body horror master and cutting commentary on double standards for women across the board.
Aspiring fashion designer Rose (Laura Vandervoort) is trying to make it in the business, but her talent is curtailed by shallow figures who only see a shy woman with scarring on her face. After she’s involved in an automobile accident which inflicts severe trauma on her face and abdomen, she undergoes experimental plastic surgery and comes out looking like a blonde bombshell. Heads start turning and she gains the attention of those in the upper echelons of the industry. At the same time, she also develops an insatiable thirst for blood and the bodies start piling up. Her vampiric ailment begins appearing in others and an epidemic of bloodthirsty violence ensues.
There’s a lot to unpack in the multiple strands of the story and though it doesn’t all tie in together as satisfactorily as could be, there’s much to admire in how boldly the twin directors take aim at their targets. It’s a provocative fusion of beauty and revulsion that continually gnarls and gnaws on themes that range from outrageous misogyny and a corrupt health care system to the benefits of a plant-based diet. It tackles them all with a knowing and dark sense of humour yet taps into a deep sincerity through the way it handles a friendship between Rose and model Chelsea. Just like The Neon Demon, it doesn’t shy away from jealously as career aspirations infect once supportive relationships.
The detailed craft involved in the costumes is impressive as it provides a backdrop of nightmarish beauty that recalls the work of Alexander McQueen’s daring creations; feathered garments and cage-like masks speak volumes as to what is going on in the inner lives of the characters. Amid all the deliciously gory blood-soaked tatters, Rabid gives its central character an agency and life that will speak to many dedicated creatives who adore what they do but feel like outliers due to circumstances out of their control.
Rabid was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019