Cabin Fever

Very nearly not a 'ho-hum'. Decent enough horror antics with a hint of very odd humour.

Released in 2002, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 07 Oct 2003 by Craig Eastman
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Every once in a while, a horror movie comes along that is "SHOCKING!", "TERRIFYING!" and occasionally "THE BEST HORROR MOVIE IN THE LAST TEN YEARS!". By "once in a while" I of course mean once a week, considering that in the last few months we've been subjected to such catch-and-release tripe as Darkness Falls, Final Destination 2, Jeepers Creepers 2, Wrong Turn and most recently House of 1000 Corpses. I'm fairly sure all of them have promised varying degrees of guaranteed cardiac instability, yet rather than being spine chilling they have all without exception proven nothing more than bum numbing. Hail then the new messiah of horror movie madness, Cabin Fever, for verily it hath been proclaimed "SHOCKING!", "TERRIFYING!" and occasionally "THE BEST HORROR MOVIE IN THE LAST TEN YEARS!". The cleverest of our readers may be noticing a pattern here...

Yes, varying publications have described this as anything from "the best horror since Blair Witch" (in which I have yet to immerse myself, so no comment) to "a triumphant return to the inventive horror of the 70s", which I can assure you it is not. All is not lost, however, as Cabin Fever is certainly the most enjoyable horror film I've seen since Hollywood's above par remake The Ring, making it pretty much by default the second best horror film this year, albeit in a poor field. Natch.

As is the norm for almost every horror movie ever a group of teens are the protagonists, this time copulating copiously in a woodland cabin they've hired for a school break. Encountering all kinds of bizarre inbred local clich?s on the way, fears that a teen remake of Deliverance is on the cards weigh heavily on one's mind. Fear not, for this is merely a brief glimpse of some deft humour the film will display later on before the action moves swiftly on to the titular cabin. There is a brief establishing phase where the various relationships (ie. who's shagging who) are laid out, if you'll pardon the pun, and then lo, a man arrives knocking at the door afflicted by some horrible flesh-rotting disease. Before long he's been accidentally set fire to and ends up face down, steaming away in the forest reservoir. From which the cabin's water supply originates. Yowzer!

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And here's where Cabin Fever at least has the good grace to be vaguely different from any other horror movie in recent memory. Rather than an axe wielding psycho/malevolent spirit/ancient zombie curse stalking the teens their battle for survival is fought against a virus they cannot see in a location they cannot escape. In terms of the last two decades, yes it's original, but hardly reason to shit one's self with excitement. We're still faced with the age-old problems of disposable teens about whom we could not care less and a plot that is as disposable as it is silly.

Perhaps it is in appreciation of this that director/co-writer Eli Roth has seen fit to inject the movie with a strand of particularly leftfield humour to compensate. Simultaneously perhaps the film's biggest saving grace and most fatal flaw, said humour certainly prevents the boredom from setting in but also hampers any intentions it may harbour to be taken seriously. Mulleted, mental, inbred capoeira-practicing ten-year-olds are certainly a chucklesome diversion, but at what cost the elusive fear factor? Another bind, as is often the case, is that the zero-budget effects, as seldom as they are called upon, are unfortunately a little duff. Wigged mannequins smeared in jam are not scary, chaps.

Still, there are saving graces to be found in both the cast's tongue-in-cheek performances and also Roth's inventive use of the camera. There's certainly a degree of claustrophobia and foreboding about his chosen setting, and the odd moment of visual flair that does well in raising this above the normally CG effects-laden fare that is the genre norm these days. I must say I'm getting a little hacked off with the continued use of sudden orchestral stabs to make the audience jump every time a hand unexpectedly falls on a shoulder, but since Roth falls back on this only once or twice (as opposed to Darkness Falls, by far and away the worst culprit in years as regards this technique) I'm just about willing to forgive and forget.

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What you take out of this movie will vary wildly depending on your expectations upon entering the cinema. If you've been swayed by the rather copious amount of bus shelter advertising space this has taken up the last few weeks then lots of luck. It's not half as good as Virgin Radio seem to think. If you've an open mind and couldn't get into Bad Boys 2 then a) what a spot of luck and b) you might be pleasantly surprised. It's not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it does succeed in mildly subverting the now firmly established genre norms, and for that alone it deserves praise.

Too funny to be a horror movie, too many mild scares to be a comedy, Cabin Fever is caught in something of a flux, capitalising insufficiently on either angle. It's biggest advantage is that it possibly heralds a promising new writer/director who could turn out to be the Shyamalan of modern horror. If nothing else we might be lucky enough to get a couple of half decent movies out of the bloke, so fingers crossed.

I award this film 3 out of 5 Biggy Giggleswicks.

Eli Roth
Cast list:
Rider Strong (Paul)
Jordan Ladd (Karen)
Joey Kern (Jeff)
Cerina Vincent (Marcy)
James DeBello (Bert)