‘Rabid’ review: Erik Matti tackles pandemic paranoias in horror anthology

The Filipino filmmaker takes our coronavirus anxieties to the extreme with four creepy and darkly funny variants on classic horror tales

Fresh off the success of his crime-thriller franchise On The Job and his raunchy rom-com A Girl And A Guy, acclaimed Filipino director Erik Matti returns to the realm of supernatural horror with new four-part anthology Rabid. Set during the height of the country’s COVID-19 lockdown, Matti and writing partner Michiko Yamamoto’s quartet of “quarantine horror” short films explores the anxieties and paranoias of the pandemic-era.

The first and longest episode, “Bad Luck is a B*tch”, is a fascinating take on the classic home invasion narrative. We’re introduced to a wealthy family who’ve adjusted well to their work-from-home circumstances. One day, mother Mayette (Chesca Diaz) decides to take in a homeless beggar woman (the gloriously hammy Jay Glorioso) out of charity, despite objections from her suspicious daughter (Ammera Johara). However, the woman is revealed to be a witch intent on using black magic to control the family, their house and their finances.

This episode is perhaps the most cogent representation of Rabid as whole. It focuses on themes of feeling trapped in your own home, class divisions, and the fear of interacting with strangers during a pandemic – all while incorporating traditional horror elements and surprisingly effective dark comedy. The gloomy and claustrophobic atmosphere makes “Bad Luck is a B*tch” the scariest episode of Rabid – but its frights are deftly balanced by some fun Sam Raimi-seque campiness during its climax.

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Rabid is bookended by its best episodes: the outrageously disgusting fourth instalment is the funniest, sickest and most entertaining entry. “Sh*t Happens” follows Becky (Ayeesha Cervantes), a young solitary nurse working the graveyard shift who is tormented by an unhinged patient named Luzviminda (Ube Lola). Set up like a spooky haunted hospital story, “Sh*t Happens” escalates into an over-the-top, horror-comedy thrill ride as Luzviminda not only physically attacks the terrified nurse, but also repeatedly flings vomit and faeces in Becky’s face.

The merciless gross-out gags, leaning upon the stellar physical comedy of Cervantes and Lola’s performances, make for absurd hysterics and nightmarish laughs. But Matti still manages to splice in potent social commentary, tackling both the exhaustion and stress of healthcare professionals battling deadly invisible threats – not to mention the understandable frustration of patients denied timely care by their country’s underprepared healthcare systems.

Erik Matti Rabid horror series Netflix review
‘Rabid’ episode “Nothing Beats Meat”. Credit: Netflix

Like most anthologies, the quality of Rabid is inconsistent. “Sh*t Happens” and “HM?” (an abysmal home cook uses a secret ingredient to improve the offerings of her online catering business) offer strong entertainment value, while the flimsy narrative of “Nothing Beats Meat” (a married couple takes refuge in a cave bunker during a zombie apocalypse) seems like unnecessary padding.

Nevertheless, each instalment of Rabid clocks in below 45 minutes and feels like a breeze to get through. Matti’s horror-inflected satires may be uneven and often lacking in genuine scares, but this series’ fun, insightful and keenly observed metaphors for our troubled pandemic-era psyches make it worth a watch.

Rabid is now streaming on Netflix

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