A group of teens take a cabin in the woods, but then die one by one from a deadly flesh-eating disease in the drinking water.
I almost feared seeing this, in case it really pressed home on the fear of illness and disease. At the same time, I wanted to see it for that same reason. I wanted it to really go there, in the way that David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly does. But young debut director and co-writer, Eli Roth, shied away from that. He realised the idea was leading that way, didn't want to upset his audience, and so went for silliness instead. But the horror audience want to be upset, fool!
Cabin Fever starts well enough, as bad films often do, even though Texas Chainsaw, Deliverance, Evil Dead, even Friday The 13th for gawd's sake, are not so much invoked as directly copied. Forget Kill Bill, if you want to see a really derivative patchwork of other films, here it is. The characters are clichés but acceptable ones: the hunk, the sexy girl, the geek, the joker, and the cute but shy girl. They arrive at a weird old roadside store, where a strange inbred kid bites one of them. Arriving at the cabin, they settle in.
That night, the story takes its first seriously stupid turn when a sick man stumbles up to the group and begs for help. Instead they attack and murder him. Yes, people can be aggressive when threatened by the unknown, yes, gangs of people can be hostile to outsiders, but killing someone for no reason is a bit extreme. If they'd known there was a threat of fatal infection, or if one of their gang was a violent type, it'd make some kind of sense. But they're normal, friendly characters, and they have no motive for suddenly killing a sick man, other than to give them a reason to be stuck in the cabin. The man falls dead in a local reservoir, infecting the water. Of course, everyone in the cabin then drinks the water, and so one by one, they start showing symptoms. They try to find help, but their pick-up was trashed when they killed the man. They walk to a nearby house, but they can't tell the woman anything, because she has a picture of the man they killed on the mantelpiece. So the illogical action of killing the man now infects subsequent scenes, causing yet more illogical behaviour. The supposed hero, the geek, starts killing everyone, and makes action-hero style quips as he does it. Then it gets really silly, with a comedy kung-fu scene followed by a Night of the Living Dead rip-off finale. The 2000 Maniacs-style coda is laughable.
Eli Roth is obviously hoping that Cabin Fever will be his calling card for a Hollywood career. But he doesn't deserve one. A film like this should at the very least be a showcase of a director's visual style. He wastes the the opportunity, simply copying other people's films. Starting as wannabe Romero, but ending as worse than Herschel Gordon Lewis, Cabin Fever really is a mess, its final scenes an unfunny Scary Movie style spoof of what we've just seen. This is the kind of film where the only pleasure comes when it ends, because it's such a stupid disaster you almost feel sorry for the people who made it. Almost. 1/10
Adrian Horrocks (January 2005)
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