Whether or not you’re a fan of Eli Roth’s 2002 feature, Cabin Fever, there are elements that make it one of the early 21st century’s more memorable horror films. As a debut it marked Roth as an energetic film maker to watch, the practical makeup/gore effectively played up the always-disturbing body-horror angle, and it put a fresh spin on the cabin-in-the-woods scenario by avoiding both slasher killers and the supernatural. It also introduced us, without reason or explanation, to the “pancakes!” kid. Sure it’s heavily flawed, but it’s also a nasty little shocker that accomplishes its admittedly slight goals with a messy efficiency.
Like any moderately successful genre film it also started its own franchise with both a sequel and a prequel hitting home video in the years since. Neither managed to recreate Roth’s raw, manic mayhem, but they both upped the gross, body-centric gore for those of us into that sort of thing. Sure they’re narrative duds, but they at least made sense in the grand scheme.
A fourth movie hits screens today, but rather than explore the story in one direction or another this Cabin Fever is actually a near beat-for-beat remake of Roth’s original. It’s no accident either as director Travis Zariwny is using the original script by Roth and Randy Pearlstein – a fact that makes it all the more strange that this version manages none of Roth’s already minor accomplishments. It feels flat throughout, the bloodletting disappoints, and perhaps most damning of all, it neuters “pancakes.”
Five friends head to a cabin in the woods for a few days of sex, drugs, and general obnoxiousness – they’re pricks to each other and to the equally one-dimensional local yokels – but they discover too late that a flesh-eating virus is hiding in the water. When an infected stranger approaches them for help he’s shot, berated, and set on fire, but before he disappears into the woods he succeeds in damaging their car. (To be fair it’s one of the five jerks who damage the car, but sure, we’ll blame the understandably distressed sick guy.) Faced with a deadly, highly-infectious virus the five proceed to do exactly what you’d expect – they act like assholes, exchange bodily fluids, and do everything possible to ensure their demise.
That’s it. There are cosmetic changes here – the sheriff is now a blond sex-pot, the most annoying of the friends is now a Call of Duty-loving dick, the “pancakes!” kid no longer knows karate – but nothing works to elevate or fix issues in the original. Following the same genre tropes – cabin in the woods, weird locals offering veiled warnings, etc – that barely worked thirteen years ago isn’t doing anyone any favors either.
Body-horror films are still capable of creeping us out, but the effects and characters here offer up far too stale of an experience meaning there’s barely a cringe-worthy beat to be found. The tainted water angle seems even more ripe for horror these days thanks to terror threats and real-world nightmares like the Flint, MI situation, but the film makes no effort to tap into new fears. Zariwny delivers some minor gross-outs, but his slick production manages nothing resembling scares, tension, or a sense of dread. Speaking of water-related slicks you can find more thrills in Creepshow 2’s “The Raft” segment then in the entirety of this unnecessary misfire.
Remakes, like all films, should always be taken on their own merits, even those idiotic enough to simply rehash the same script, but the new Cabin Fever has nothing of its own to sink your teeth into. Exceedingly annoying and dumb characters meet mildly grisly deaths. Hooray for zzzzzz.
The Upside: Looks and sounds like a movie
The Downside: Characters annoy and frustrate; terror and gore underwhelm; fails to justify its existence as anything but a cash grab; ruins the “pancakes” mystique