Remaking a movie by a director of David Cronenberg's caliber is a dicey proposition. You have to either be as good a filmmaker as he is, or have some irresistible new take on what you're remaking. The former is tough because Cronenberg has such a distinct cinematic voice. The latter is definitely possible. I had hoped the Soska Sisters' remake of Rabid would devise such a fresh approach. It doesn't. Although competently made from a technical perspective, the movie is unexpectedly bland on a story level.

While the general premise is the same, the characters are different. In fact, they aren't even characters so much as one-dimensional stereotypes. Laura Vandervoort plays Rose, a mousy Aspiring Fashion Designer working for a Demanding Boss named Gunter (Mackenzie Gray). She gripes about him to the obligatory Sarcastic Best Friend, Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot). After an evening encounter with the also-obligatory Mysterious Hunk, photographer Brad (Ben Hollingsworth), Rose gets into an accident that leaves her facially disfigured.

The solution to her problem seems to be an experimental treatment from a Sketchy Doctor, in this case Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton). His skin grafts fix Rose right up. In fact, she looks absolutely radiant. The new Rose even comes up with designs that (of course) earn Gunter's approval. There are some side effects: she has a voracious sexual appetite, a weird tentacle growing out of her armpit, and a thirst for blood. Rose also unwittingly passes around a contagion that turns others into zombie-like creatures.

Several good elements can be found in Rabid. Although the character herself isn't particularly interesting, Vandervoort proves an appealing lead. She's got a natural sympathetic quality that pulls us in. Another plus is that the Soskas, who previously directed the terrific American Mary, clearly have enthusiasm for the horror beats. Some stellar prosthetics and FX work provide chills, especially during Rose's climactic encounter with an entity I'm not going to spoil by describing. In other words, Rabid comes alive when it's getting gross. The filmmaking siblings aren't shy about showing the icky stuff, and thank goodness for it.

Even so, they're taking on a master. Cronenberg perfected the body-horror subgenre. Watch his early films – Rabid, Scanners, Videodrome – and you notice a palpable atmosphere of dread pervading every frame. They're profoundly disturbing pictures for that reason. When some object enters or emerges from a body, you squirm in disgust, even as you wait breathlessly to see what's going to happen next. The Soskas' Rabid simply lacks that all-important vibe. It has blood and gore and sex, without ever really getting under your skin or fraying your nerves. Given that this is expressly what body-horror is supposed to do, its absence here is disappointing.

Rabid isn't great and it's not terrible. The movie rests in that middle ground. I'm not sure why the Soska Sisters wanted to remake Cronenberg. They have enthusiasm, style, and an admirable feminist perspective. Hopefully next time they'll tackle an original project that doesn't automatically invite comparison to one of the greatest horror/chiller directors of our time.

out of four

Rabid is unrated, but contains bloody creature violence, sexuality, and brief language. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.