If fitting the definition of a remake is the sign of a good reboot then Cabin Fever is inarguably in rarified air. Scene for scene, line for line (for the most part), the latest film from Travis Zariwny uses the exact same Randy Pearlstein screenplay that made Eli Roth a young horror icon in 2002. So why, 14 years later, are we seeing it all over again? Your guess is as good as mine.
The story, as we all know by now, follow a group of five selfish and somewhat attractive 20-somethings who escape to the woods for a week of fun, sex and booze where no one has cell service and there is no WiFi. Everything is fun and games at first, but before long a very sick man shows up at the door with blood pouring from every orifice. The gang makes a few rash decisions that end in tragedy, and before too much time passes they too start to feel sick. Next comes the bleeding, then the peeling of flesh, and somewhere not far from there are the credits. Aside from a few very minor story changes (a jock was replaced by a hipster and the sleazy deputy is now a woman) everything in this film is as it was in the original version, only now we see the world through a decidedly more serious tone.
The talent assembled to sell this remake are all perfectly fine at playing disposable nobodies, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call that a compliment. Blame it on the script or a lack of strong direction from Zariwny, but there is not a single person on-screen I hope to see in a future film. Each cast member meanders from set piece to set piece with all the voracity of lost slugs on a summer day. As an ensemble they fail to sell fear, sex appeal, comedy and sorrow in under 100 minutes, which is commendable in certain circles, but only when done to an extent so rotten it can only induce laughter. This movie does not go far enough to earn that title (though it could be argued Roth’s version did), so everything that transpires is met with a cringe, if any emotion at all.
As far as Zariwny’s direction is concerned, his approach is all that really can be discussed in regards to his contribution to this production. Working with the same material as Roth, who has long been panned by many for his so-called juvenile sense of humor, Zariwny chooses to present Cabin Fever in a way that hopes to come across as a nightmarish vision of possible reality instead of the kind of horror you’re expected to actually enjoy. This adds varying amounts of dramatic weight to the disease and the trauma it causes, but it also dilutes the already thin element of humor in a film that bills itself as comedy-horror. It’s hard enough to laugh at a story about people rotting from the inside out without seeing it captured in a way that brings to mind the torture porn titles that made Roth a genre mainstay. (It should be noted that Roth carries an executive producer credit on this film.)
It’s tricky to review remakes in general, but when you consider the fact that this specific reboot uses the same script that was used during production on the original film the task feels even more difficult. Why does this film exist? I said that in the beginning of this review, as well as several times during my screening of movie, and sitting here now writing the closing paragraph the answer still eludes me. Save for someone really, really wanting to see the entire thing portrayed with a more realistic tone there is no explanation or reason why anyone would care to see this film if they know of the original’s existence. Those who love Eli Roth’s breakout hit will find nothing new to cherish here, and those who had problems with that film will find all the flaws are still just as they were in 2002. From beginning to end, no matter how you look at it this version of Cabin Fever is pointless and as such I cannot think of a single reason to ever recommend you see it.