Thursday, 10 November 2016

Movie Review: Cabin Fever (2016)

Aside from making me feel really bloody old knowing that the film is over a decade old by now, Eli Roth’s directorial debut Cabin Fever was the world’s first exposure to Roth’s… interesting approach to filmmaking. Namely, hateful lead characters with sprinklings of batshit insane in the script. It has a handful of scenes that have gone into memetic legend because of their strangeness, none more so than this little beauty and it set a trend for horror writing that has plagued us ever since. It’s another example of the exception of the rule that became the rule, only here that prospect turned out to be far more disastrous than anyone could have foreseen. And then some idiot by the professional name of Travis Z decided he wanted to remake this “classic”. I’d call this pointless, except it isn’t even the worst offender in that regard this year alone, so I’m willing to give this film its day in court. This is Cabin Fever.


The plot: College students Paul (Samuel Davis), Karen (Gaga Golightly), Jeff (Matthew Daddario) and Marcy (Nadine Crocker), wanting a break from their studies, go on a weekend vacation in a cabin in the woods. The locals don’t approve too highly of outsiders and it seems like they have reason to once the students discover that there is something wrong in these woods. A virus is starting to spread, and it seems like our students are stuck without any help. Too good for ‘em, I say!

When I say that this is a remake, I mean in one of the more literal senses of the term. This is still working from the same script that Eli Roth and Randy Pearlstein wrote for the original film… which kind of highlights a glaring issue before the film even starts. I’ve said before that Roth is by no means a terrible filmmaker from a purely technical point of view: His handling of gore and grit is actually high up there among the best directors of the modern era. That said, his biggest failing is and always will be his writing style; of all the things to adapt for new-ish audiences, why keep easily the worst part of the original film? Well, they mostly kept it, as Travis Z (that name isn’t getting any less dumb the more I write it) trimmed down a lot of the script, and among the dialogue casualties are the frequent homophobic slurs. Seriously, there isn’t a single one in this version. Not only that, there has been at least a tertiary attempt to modernize the script, mainly through name-dropping stuff like GTA V to show that it’s hip with what the kids are into. For the most part, though, the changes that have been made are cosmetic, like how they made the infamous Party Cop character into a token lesbian. The stupid crap that littered the original like the aforementioned pancakes scene, the conversation about feeling like they’re on a plane that’s about to crash and they should have a screw before they die, and the scene where one of the leads accidentally and then intentionally shoots a man who is begging for help? All of that is kept in, only slightly tuned down from the screwball BS of the original.

And speaking of tone, the approach to the characters have been kept largely the same as well. They’re still incredibly oversexed, drug-addled, misanthropic dingbats that no-one is meant to mourn the death of. Now, this is usually intended on Eli Roth’s part as a means of laughing at these morons as they get their rightful comeuppance. The reason I bring up tone is that, because this is played a lot straighter than the original, the more satirical air that Roth always intended is actually feasible here. Without sudden kung-fu kicks after begging for pancakes, it’s actually easier to see the intentional humour in the thing. Now, don’t mistake that for this being funny; this still relies on us finding wholly unlikeable people both watchable and funny. Sorry, but I have never found that to be a source of comedy so straight-faced stance or not, we’re still working with dud jokes.

In fact, more than any kind of social satire that the more hoity-toity critics keep praising Eli Roth for (looking at you, Armond White), the main sub-genre I’d equate this to is a Christian propaganda film. Sure, it has a higher quantity of tits and gore than your average PureFlix production, but the style and intent of the narrative is still the same: Blunt force trauma in depicting the supposed ills of a chosen demographic and vilifying them for it. Yeah, the people involved are more than worthy of such scorn, but that doesn’t make the very heavy-handed nature of the narrative any easier to sit through for any length of time. Hell, with the screwball elements toned down severely here, this ends up looking like a straight-faced satire of them young people today. Just to be clear, I don’t recall “video game detox” being a key point of the original film, so for all I know this is even more overt in that sense. If this is satire, it sure as shit ain’t funny.

The gore effects are still pretty decent here, and the film’s biggest selling point is that it features all-new deaths for the characters that we… tolerate(?), but it feels a lot like it’s just showing blood and guts for its own sake. Probably doesn’t help that this film will occasionally try to be serious, and in the process have a character put another character out of their illness-induced misery by setting them on fire. This goes beyond exploitative and into just plain mean-spirited. Not to mention that gore in and of itself isn’t scary; it’s wince-inducing and occasionally gets us to say “Damn!” when someone gets really graphic and/or creative with it (e.g. Machete using a man’s intestines to rappel to the lower floor of a building), but it certainly isn’t scary… for most people, at least. I say most people because I know for a fact that one person found this scary: Composer Kevin Riepl. This soundtrack is easily putting in the most effort of anything involved because it keeps conveying every scene like this is the most tragic and intense horror film ever made. The only thing that got me to laugh during this whole ordeal was how histrionic the music got, even when the scene in no way calls for dramatic and unsettling music.

All in all, I wouldn’t exactly call this a pointless remake as there is some effort to iron out the heavy-set wrinkles of the original story; the sheer absence of homophobia immediately win this film a point or two. That said, this isn’t good either as, despite the admittedly decent camera work and trying-way-too-damn-hard musical score, this sticks close enough to the original’s script that it makes many of the same mistakes as it did. In fact, in areas, it ends up making new mistakes. Well, as a last-ditch effort to show a bit of optimism here, I will admit that I am looking forward to Eli Roth’s next film which will be a remake of Death Wish. Why? Because not only is he not writing the bloody thing this time, it’s actually being co-written by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski, the guys who gave us Big Eyes and Goosebumps. Have to admit, I’m willing to give that film a chance. As for this film, it’s worse than Jane Got A Gun which showed a far more likeable approach to its characters, bland as they were. However, because I concede that at least some modicum of effort was made here, it ranks higher than Ride Along 2 which somehow managed to make negative effort.

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