I admit that I have a definite soft-spot towards retro throwback movies. Wet Hot American Summer, House of the Devil, Dazed and Confused – I love them all. But despite my acknowledged proclivity towards nostalgic films, I can fully confirm that Rabid Love is certifiably great.
Set in the summer of 1984, Heather Ross (Hayley Derryberry) and her group of recent college grad friends celebrate by road tripping to a cabin in the woods for a weekend vacation. But, unsurprisingly, this is not going to be the relaxing vacation that these fun-loving twenty somethings had in mind. Amidst rumors of a giant bear plaguing local residents, mysterious hunters infiltrating the woods, and occultist hippies running amok, Heather attempts to solve the mystery of what is causing the death of her friends in these peaceful woods.
Paul J. Porter’s debut feature film Rabid Love exemplifies the possibilities of what an independent horror film can be. The 80s aesthetics which permeate the film and synth-heavy original score recall critically acclaimed films like Ti West’s House of the Devil. And while certain scenes do digress into somewhat amateur sequences that look more like an 80s music video than a feature film, most of the references are subtle, neither suffocating nor confining to the larger story at play.
Along with the strong acting especially by Derryberry, a fully fleshed-out script, and a great score, what really stands out is the camerawork and cinematography. Each shot is beautiful composed, restrained, and meditative. The camera’s gaze upon the friends builds an uncomfortable tension between allowing the characters freedom to move, yet always watching them afar in a stalker-like fashion, mirroring the presence of the unknown and deadly forces that surround them in the woods. The film’s low-budget does become evident in certain portions of the film – specifically the image quality in low light settings and an inconsistent audio track. Still, what the film lacks in technical resources, it makes up for in its hauntingly atmospheric visuals.
Rabid Love is not without flaws. The film can be considered a slow-burn, but despite this slow build-up of tension, the climax is not as effective as it could be. However, in my eyes, the technical craft of the film makes up for the anti-climactic ending. This is especially so since this is Porter’s first full-length feature film so awkward pacing is to be somewhat expected. But what Rabid Love does show is a commitment to aesthetics, a concrete knowledge of film grammar, and an impressive attention to slow-burn, atmospheric tension. Given the numerous successes in Porter’s film, I am very excited to see what he does next.
Review: Alex Schultz