RABID — a film by Jen and Sylvia Soska — SPOILERS
The Soska Sisters‘ re-imagining of the 1977 Cronenberg classic looks at the story from a very different perspective. Rather than focusing (as the original film did) on the response to the outbreak by government agencies and the general population, this movie concerns itself mainly with Rose’s transformation, both physical and mental, and tries to explain that transformation scientifically. Effects of the disease on the general population are mentioned only in passing. Also, the new film seems to be set in some unspecified American city. The original story took place in or near Montreal.
In the original, Dr. Keloid was the plastic surgeon. (The name is sort of a pun. Keloids are a type of scar that results from skin injury.) In the new version, Dr. Keloid (Stephen McHattie) is the referring physician and the plastic surgeon is Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton).
The doctor’s name is likely a reference to Cronenberg’s 1991 film NAKED LUNCH, because, while monitoring Rose’s recovery on video, Dr. Burroughs actually listens to a recording (not sure which one) of “Advice For Young People“. We get to hear most of the part where W.S. Burroughs (sounding like a hyper-cynical Mark Twain) talks about psychic vampires. “If, after having been exposed to someone’s presence, you feel as if you’ve lost a quart of plasma, avoid that presence. You need it like you need pernicious anemia. We don’t like to hear the word ‘vampire’ here. Trying to improve our PR. ‘Interdependence’ is the keyword. Enlightened interdependence. Life in all its rich variety. Take a little; leave a little. However, by the inexorable logistics of the vampiric process, they always take more than they leave.”
Rose (Laura Vandervoort), whose face was scarred in a relatively minor way in a car accident that killed her parents, works for a fashion designer named Gunter whose latest project is called shadenfreude. She is humiliated at a party by some of her alleged friends, flees on her motorbike, and is struck by a car, resulting in much more severe facial scarring and the loss of a large portion of her intestines. Dr. Burroughs is a miracle worker, though, and through stem cell mainipulation, she soon recovers. The scarring from the first accident is gone, she no longer needs glasses, and she suddenly becomes a brilliant designer. Problem is, she’s hungry a lot (indicated by loud borborygmi) and the special food supplements provided by Dr. Burroughs don’t satisfy her. She needs blood.
In both films it is implied that the disease that Rose’s bite transmits (which acts like a mutated form of rabies) was somehow created by the stem cell treatments. A benign virus similar to rabies must have been present in Rose at the time of her treatments and was changed. Rose is a carrier, but is unaffected by the new disease, likely because her body helped invent it. It would seem that Dr. Burroughs, who is a transhumanist (something quite similar to the neolutionists on ORPHAN BLACK) was attempting to create a vampire, not a plague carrier. (The virus might have been intentional if it was designed to change humans into vampires, but turned out to have unfortunately fatal side effects.)
The blood-sucking appeandage that Rose uses to feed seems to have some connection to the lamprey eels Dr. Burroughs keeps in a tank in his laboratory.
The new film ends in a way that is superficially similar but really much different than the way the original ended. Cronenberg’s 1977 film is unyieldingly bleak, and any villainy on the part of its characters is involuntary. The colours are so subdued that it almost seems black and white at times. In the 2019 version, the colours are vivid and a scientific zealot is behind it all. One is left with a feeling of dread at the end, but also with many possible ways for the story to continue.
RABID (2019) will be in Canadian theatres on 31 January, and is available in the US on DVD and Blu-Ray (4 February), and from most VOD outlets.
Hanneke Talbot (Chelsea) is Katherine in POSSESSOR, which stars Andrea Riseborough as Tasya Vos, a corporate agent who uses brain-implant technology to take control of other people’s bodies and use them to assassinate targets specified by the company. The nature of her work puts Tasya in a constant struggle to suppress violent urges and memories, and, as her mental strain intensifies, she soon finds herself trapped in the mind of a man whose identity threatens to overwhelm her own. Kaniehtiio Horn (Tanis on LETTERKENNY) is also in the cast. Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, POSSESSOR will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, 25 January at 9pm.
Stephen McHattie (Dr. Keloid) is Frank Cooper in TARGET NUMBER ONE, a film inspired by the true story of a convoluted case of entrapment in which a former heroin addict (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is forced into a dangerous drug deal against his will and is sentenced to 100 years in a Thai prison. While he tries to survive his Bangkok incarceration, the news of his conviction captures the attention of Globe and Mail journalist Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett), who decides to go after the shady undercover cops responsible. Filmed in Thailand and British Columbia, TARGET NUMBER ONE will be released in Quebec on 24 April.