Five friends celebrating graduation rent a cabin in the woods, only to find themselves falling victim to a deadly flesh-eating virus – and, later, to some shotgun-wielding redneck types who don’t take kindly to their germs.
Horror fans can be a baffling bunch sometimes. For example, they’ll scream bloody murder when a genre classic gets remade, forgetting that some of their favourite modern horror films (The Thing, The Fly, The Ring) are remakes. In the case of the outcry over the Cabin Fever update, however, it’s unclear whether the principal objection is that Eli Roth’s gonzo 2002 film was an untouchable classic, or that 14 years simply isn’t a sufficient gap to warrant a do-over (unless it’s a foreign language film, in which case it’s okay).
In Hollywood terms, the Cabin Fever remake actually makes sense, given that (a) the teenagers it’s aimed at were toddlers when the original came out, and (b) it failed to launch a successful franchise, despite spawning two sequels (the second of which was, counter-intuitively, better than the first, which was all but disowned by its own director). Yet it also presents a dilemma: in most cases – the recent Martyrs remake comes to mind – one would trot out the old, “Skip the crappy remake, and check out the original.” But – let’s be honest – the original Cabin Fever’s acclaim had more to do with the moribund state of American horror at the time of its release (the Blair Witch effect took a few years to catch on) than its inherent brilliance. It’s good, goopy fun, but it’s no Evil Dead, much as Roth tried to channel the spirit of Sam Raimi’s seminal indie horror.
Directed by Travis Z (for Zariwny) from a script that’s nearly a scene-by-scene – and sometimes word-for-word – copy of the original (though the ‘N’ word is conspicuously absent from the PC remake), the shiny new 2016 version has some lazily updated characters – if one can call such one-dimensional talking props ‘characters’ – and demonstrably nastier effects, the latter to curiously reductive effect: absent Roth’s playful, tongue-in-cheek (or tongue through cheek) sensibility, the most memorable set pieces – the leg-shaving scene, and the, ahem, ‘sliding into third base’ shenanigans – come off as merely gross, rather than gross-you-out fun.
As Cabin Fever drags humourlessly toward its franchise-bait ending, the growing sense of dread it fosters has less to do with the intended horror of watching your BFFs become infected by a deadly virus, than the creeping suspicion that nobody’s heart is really in it.
A duff remake of a beloved horror film is nothing new, but Travis Z’s do-over of Eli Roth’s goopy 2002 gorefest is surely one of the laziest. Despite being made from virtually the same script as the original, something essential has been lost in translation: Eli Roth’s gonzo spirit. ★★