A trip to the Internet Movie DataBase shows that a handful of studios passed on Eli Roth's Cabin Fever when it was still in the script stage. Then at last year's Toronto Film Festival, most of those same studios entered a bidding war after the film became an audience favorite, with indie savior Lions Gate winning in the end. An understandable situation, since reading Roth's gonzo screenplay wouldn't be half as fun as seeing how the man himself brings his pet horror project to life with such a fresh, creative breath. In a year that's treated the horror genre quite nicely, having delivered such treats as May and Wrong Turn, Cabin Fever continues the trend by showing off an entertaining mixture of scares and laughs, resulting in a darkly funny horror picture that's the flipside of 28 Days Later.
Watching the first half-hour of Cabin Fever, you'd never guess things would get very icky by the final credits. College students Paul (Rider Strong), Burt (James DeBello), Jeff (Joey Kern), Karen (Jordan Ladd), and Marcy (Cerina Vincent) have rented a cabin located deep in the woods, intent on spending a week of wild partying. But the fun is cut short when a hermit swings by the cabin, coughing up blood and watching his own skin decompose. In no time, the friends become paranoid about one another as well as worried over whether or not they'll catch the mountain man's disease. They also wonder how would they be able to get help. As each one fights to stay calm, the virus slowly spreads among the group, infecting the buddies and causing their flesh to start rotting away. Throw in a trio of rednecks, a vicious dog, and a weird kid with a mullet, and you have the worst time in the wilderness since Deliverance.
Cabin Fever plays out like a collision between your average, blood-soaked opus and something completely different. The characters are the same group of twentysomethings who shed clothing before they start shedding skin, but certain elements are of an extremely bizarre and random fashion that stem
from the mind of first-time director Roth. When focused upon the characters, who are admittedly so one-note that Roth needn't even bother with names (all you'll remember are the drunk guy, the really paranoid guy, the promiscuous
one, etc.), the film is pretty standard stuff, playing out the same routine of screaming, sex, and spurting blood. The acting is decent enough (with solid, likable turns from Strong and DeBello), but familiar territory is covered in terms of the pecking order of who will fall victim to the silent, unseen killer taking them down one by one. Fortunately, Roth realizes the
conventions of the genre, and with Cabin Fever, he injects his own creative juices, using ideas and a sense of unpredictability to sneak up on the audience and surprise the heck out of them.
I can honestly say I've never seen a horror flick quite like this one, and that's a good thing. What Roth has crafted is both a gorehound's fantasy and a treat for fans of atmospheric horror films. Roth cares just as much about scaring his audience as he does in making them laugh and flat-out freaking them out with a number of random moments that accomplish both of the aforementioned tasks.
From the party-seeking Deputy Winston (Giuseppe Andrews, who appeared with DeBello in Detroit Rock City) to the "Bunny Man," whose split-second appearance results in the funniest addition to the final credits in recent years (look for it, and you'll see), quite a few things happen in Cabin Fever for no good reason. But that's all a part of the picture's charm, as whether or not the randomness floats your boat is a big deciding factor in how you will enjoy the film as a whole. If rotting flesh, dead animals, bloody campfire stories, and a kung-fu kid that bites people doesn't sound like your idea of a good time, then don't even bother looking at the film's
eerie poster. But if you're in the mood for some good shocks, suspense (it's all about "the" reservoir scene), and scares with some laughs thrown in for good measure, then Roth's intriguing mixture of all is right up your alley.
Still, Cabin Fever isn't without its share of faults. As previously mentioned, the characters are regurgitated (pun intended) from the halls of horror cliches, and near the end, Roth does trip up a bit in forming the denouement.
I'm not a huge fan of horror, but in recent years, I have come to recognize it as possibly the most underrated of all genres. It doesn't take much to scare people, but it's an art to fill them with a sense of dread, to put them in the place of the characters and fuel them with the same fear surrounding the story. Cabin Fever accomplishes these goals, with Roth
showing a great appreciation for horror itself and for fans of the genre.
With its independent, play-it-rough approach to horror, I predict Cabin Fever will live on at frat parties for many
years to come.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated "R" for strong violence and gore, sexuality, language, and brief drug use.)
Review also posted at www.ajhakari.com.