Director: Ti West
Writer: Joshua Malkin, Randy Pearlstein, Ti West
Producer: Lauren Vilchik, Patrick Durham, Jonathan Sachar
Stars: Rider Strong, Noah Segan, Alexi Wasser, Rusty Kelley, Marc Senter, Michael Bowen, Larry Fessenden, Marc Borchardt, Judah Friedlander, Giuseppe Andrews
A high school prom becomes the scene of a lockdown when a flesh-eating virus contaminates the school’s bottled water supply.
As someone who enjoyed Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever” (review here), and as someone who follows the work of director Ti West, I put off watching “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever” for the longest time thanks to negative word-of-mouth and reports of behind-the-scenes turmoil culminating in West’s attempt to remove his name from the credits. What was the incentive to give the movie a shot when few people had anything good to say about it, particularly the creators? Eli Roth had nothing to do with it and Ti West wanted nothing to do with it, which constitutes two strong reasons for the audience not to care either.
Expectations could not have been any lower thanks to this foreknowledge, but “Cabin Fever 2” is nowhere near as unwatchable as its semi-scandalous post-production path to delayed distribution would suggest. In fact, those predetermined fears over questionable quality were largely unwarranted. While not fully satisfying, “Cabin Fever 2” is actually an irreverently humorous gorefest high on entertainment value even when it is deficient in sense and structure.
Although “Cabin Fever 2” is a mix of outrageous black comedy in drip doses mixed with gross out gags, just as the original film was, its tone is not quite identical. The comedy in the sequel is as unapologetic as ever, but it has a different sense of spirit that is a touch meaner, a bit more juvenile, and a dash more in your face than what Eli Roth went for. It is easy to see how the sequel has a vaguely familiar “Cabin Fever” vibe while coming across with a differently styled blend of laughs and scares.
And it is how a viewer relates to that rebalance in tone that determines how s/he will respond to the movie as a whole. Ti West’s stamp is definitely on the film, even if he did not want it to be. That means long shots, two shots, and long two shots that play out in extended takes until West, his actors, and the characters are good and ready to move onto the next scene in their own time. It is a deliberate technique demanding patience from an audience willing to wait for measured scene development, which is arguably not the right element when sequelizing a film remembered for snappier pacing, dialogue, and appeal befitting a crowd reared on music videos.
The other slippery slope is not so much the gore specifically, but how it is delivered. There is a distastefulness to pissing blood in a punchbowl, a blood/pus mixture oozing from the head of a penis, and a girl graphically spitting into the sink after performing oral sex that risks turning off a viewer completely. If that happens, it can be forgiven as understandable given the circumstances. But the point of such gruesomeness is to grimace in revulsion, making it difficult to not award “Cabin Fever 2” a gold star in this category. One scene involving something as small as a fingernail is sure to have people clinching a tight fist. Love it or lump it, that is a film having a desired effect on the audience.
The bigger problem for “Cabin Fever 2” is that it is structurally loose, which may be credited to the director being uninvolved in cutting the final product together. Those who liked Giuseppe Andrews’ Deputy Winston from the first “Cabin Fever” will like him again here. Strangely, the script has him practically in another story altogether as Winston does not even circle into direct interaction with the main characters until the final minute of the film. Or rather, what should have been the final minute of the film.
“Cabin Fever 2” has two endings and both of them suck. The first is a brick wall stoppage to the storyline that leaves relationship subplots in the lurch and is wholly unfulfilling as a resolution. Rightfully unsatisfied with a finale that feels like the filmmakers just did not care anymore, the producers apparently went back and filmed an epilogue. It is an obviously tacked on after-the-fact affair that does feature a character whose fate I wondered about. But the best that can be said about the second serving of disappointment is that it makes the first ending seem not so bad. It is the worst scene in the movie and it is the one without Ti West’s fingerprint. The Powers That Be who produced the final cut inadvertently validated West’s assertion that their vision did not measure up to his.
Had Ti West been able to tinker with it, “Cabin Fever 2” might have been elevated from good enough to potential cult favorite. It doesn’t have the parts to construct a monster hit, but there are enough gems glimmering through coal coats to suggest careful polish could have smoothed out the stones. Its undeniable fault is that while it is consistent within itself, “Cabin Fever 2” deviates from the comedy tinged terror expectation established by the first film with a darker streak of subversive behavior. The soundtrack is terrific, the cast is ready, willing, and able, but it takes a tolerance for borderline offensive gore and Ti West pacing to see the forest for these trees.
Review Score: 65