Laura Vandervoort is Rose, an “ugly duckling” fashion designer working for the Zoolander-esque Gunter (Mackenzie Gray). When he isn’t belittling her work, her cocaine-snorting colleagues Bev and Ellie (played co-writers and directors Bev and Ellie Soska) treat her with disdain. Even her BFF, a model named Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot) barely rises to the real definition of the word friend. One night, after an incident at a nightclub Rose is involved in a terrible motorcycle accident. In the hospital she is covered in bandages, suffering from internal trauma and disfiguring damage to her face. Her only hope at returning to normal life is an experimental treatment from Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton), a megalomaniacal surgeon whose stem-cell procedures are just slightly outside the boundaries of accepted science.
The surgery is a success and this time when she takes off the bandages she is met with an idealized version of her face. She is no longer an ugly duckling and with her new image comes a new, highly confident attitude. The people at the design studio now take her work seriously and the velvet ropes of nightclubs, barricades that once kept her on the outside, suddenly disappear.
On the downside, the procedure has left her with a vampiric lust for blood and soon she is feasting on the innards of nightclubber Billy (CM Punk) and soap opera star Dominic (Stephen Huszar). Each time she feeds, she also spreads a deadly strain of rabies, raising fears of a widespread outbreak of virus villainy.
The new “Rabid” takes some liberties with the source material. Through his star, former porn star Marilyn Chambers, Cronenberg examined large social issues like consumerism, gender equality and political impropriety. The Soska Sisters retain the bones of the story but shift their focus to Rose’s inner life as she transmutes into a form she doesn’t understand. Vandervoort effectively portrays Rose’s quandry, bringing out an emotional core to the story missing from the 1977 original.
“Rabid” works best when it lets itself go. There are some outrageous and gruesome special effects—a fight between an aging soap opera star and a younger rival is ferocious, fearless and bloody good fun—but that sense of unpredictability and savagery doesn’t translate to the rest of the film. It’s a shame because a sharper edge would have helped “Rabid” become its own thing and not simply a remake of an older, much-loved horror movie.