Things have changed since 2002. In the 14 years between the release of Eli Roth’s original Cabin Fever and Travis Zariwny’s remake, we’ve seen a couple of changes in government, there’s been a global financial crisis, and iPhones were invented. But while college kids today are growing up in a world where Facebook is our primary method of communication and the dream of a decent job post-graduation seems significantly less likely than it used to, there’s apparently one thing that’ll never change: when spring break rolls around, it’s time to head off to a cabin in the woods.
And when they get there, of course, disaster awaits, because no matter how much the world changes, some horror movie tropes will always stay the same. In Cabin Fever, though, the threat lurking in the woods isn’t a madman with a chainsaw but a flesh-eating virus, which the unsuspecting holidaymakers contract after coming into contact with an unfortunate hermit (well, okay – there are other threats, too, but that’s the main attraction).
If you’ve seen the original, you’ll know what to expect from this film. It isn’t a shot-for-shot remake, but it’s a beat-for-beat remake, so in spite of the superficial updates – one character is a selfie addict, another an obsessive gamer distraught at having to leave his clan for an internetless week in the woods – roughly the same things happen to the same people in the same order. Zariwny’s remake has one idea, and one idea only: take out the jokes.
See, the original Cabin Fever walked a delicate line between humour and horror. The characters made fun of one another, there were several gory sight gags and, in probably the film’s best moment, the apparently racist owner of the local shop turned out to have meant something completely different by his off-colour remarks. There was also a vein of deeply surreal silliness to the film – remember the pancake-obsessed karate kid? Or Eli Roth’s own cameo as a stoned camper eager to share his stash? All of those things might have seemed like throwaway jokes that could easily be stripped out to create a leaner, meaner, scarier horror movie, but this remake proves otherwise. Turns out, those jokes were integral to the structure of the film. Without them, it collapses into a dreary sludge of stock characters and gloopy gore effects.
Those effects are pretty impressive, in all fairness, but they’re ruined by the desperate way the film overplays them. Subtlety is something Eli Roth’s films can rarely be accused of, but compared with this remake, the original Cabin Fever looks like a masterclass in restraint; here, every drop of blood is zoomed in on and lingered over, every faintly portentous moment accompanied with the audible equivalent of a swift elbow in the ribs, to make sure everyone knows when they’re meant to be scared.
Even the ending is bungled, as Roth’s homage to Night Of The Living Dead is scribbled out and replaced with a less-ironic-than-intended fate for one of the main characters. Zariwny might’ve read the original script for Cabin Fever, but as the film progresses, it becomes increasingly clear he didn’t understand what any of it meant. His characters might meet bloodier fates, but without the same attention to character and nuance, none of it means anything. If you’ve seen the original, you’ll be both bored by the similarities and irritated by the differences between it and this remake; if you haven’t, well, you’ll just be bored and irritated. It’s hard to even accuse the remake’s characters of making bad decisions; they do, but they’re so thinly sketched that they never even feel like characters, just bad actors awkwardly reading lines.
Rather than making a scarier update of a minor cult classic, all Zariwny has done is produced a tone deaf, moronic mess. On the bright side, over the last 14 years DVDs have got much cheaper and various instant streaming services have been launched, so if you do fancy watching Cabin Fever, you can just watch the original.
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