Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Travis Zariwny
Writer: Eli Roth, Randy Pearlstein
Producer: Evan Astrowsky, Christopher Lemole, Tim Zajaros
Stars: Gage Golightly, Matthew Daddario, Samuel Davis, Nadine Crocker, Dustin Ingram
Five friends find themselves trapped at a cabin in the woods when a deadly flesh-eating virus begins to spread.
What’s the “right” way to remake a movie? “Not at all,” say the cynical. “At least not like Gus Van Sant,” say the snarkier. Everyone has a different opinion, many of which can’t wait to be shared unsolicited in website comment sections after a reboot is announced. Hell hath few furies like a film fan whose untouchable favorite has been eyed for a makeover.
It’s close-minded and shortsighted to immediately sigh “why” with a question mark and an exclamation point upon mere mention of a remake. It is also selfish and prejudicial to drum up a list of wishful conditions a remake must fulfill to earn an imaginary seal of approval. “Well, if they’re going to redo it, they better have/do (fill in the blank), otherwise…”
Yet no matter what sacred cow is supposedly sacrificed or unwinnable war waged wooing audiences prepped to boo it anyway, a remake should have a visible purpose in clear sight for why a second version makes sense. For all the guff given Gus Van Sant for meticulously recreating “Psycho,” there is understandable logic behind freshening a 40-year-old classic for eyes interested in a color film with a contemporary cast. Of course, sour response to the end product suggests the idea was misguided or misfired in hindsight, but it’s harder to argue an impossible comprehension of why an update was attempted in the first place.
Filmmaker Travis Zariwny’s “Cabin Fever” 2016 doesn’t do the full Van Sant by going shot-for-shot, but its nucleus is the same script co-written and then directed by Eli Roth for “Cabin Fever” 2002 (review here). Initial thoughts wonder if enough significantly changed culturally or advanced technologically in those 14 years to justify reincarnating a film still considered current. Knowing the script wasn’t rewritten first only compounds those questions. So what does “Cabin Fever” 2016 aim to achieve that its predecessor did not or could not?
Considering the changes made, Zariwny appears zeroed in on crafting a more mainstream take on Eli Roth’s initial vision. Not that the first “Cabin Fever” wasn’t late night cable or multiplex-friendly, but Roth put some swagger of freshman fearlessness into his movie, building a bridge between outsider appeal and broader accessibility.
The edge Roth injected into his “Cabin Fever” characters, deemed obnoxious by dissenters, provided enough smarmy charm complimenting gonzo gore that cult classic status was merited for what was a novel movie mood at the time. Zariwny takes fewer risks to detour around intentional irreverence and careless controversy, perhaps unsure if he could achieve similar results or choosing not to since that path was previously taken. A side effect of this safer tactic is that so many comedic nuances end up neutered, “Cabin Fever” 2016 isn’t left with a personality standing at the same height as the original.
As the same-script strategy indicates, if you know “Cabin Fever” 2002, you know “Cabin Fever” 2016. Five friends going for a getaway in the woods end up infected by a flesh-eating virus that has unknowingly poisoned the local yokels’ water supply. Broad plot points remain unchanged.
The majority of alterations qualify as inconsequential, ranging from dialogue tweaks, e.g. Bert referencing video games such as “GTA V” and “Minecraft,” to Paul running afoul of a country couple’s Peeping Tom accusations outside a trailer instead of a house. Where the “Cabin Fever” redux runs into trouble is in its new spins on familiar faces, all of which are uneven matchups as to which version has the stronger characterization.
Berkeley skater Justin, memorably portrayed by Eli Roth in 2002, is now Portland hipster Connor. Both bear the nickname “Grim” and serve the same story function, but actor Timothy G. Zajaros goes for a Matthew McConaughey speech pattern that makes his stoner sleepy when Roth’s was a scene-stealer. Deputy Winston sees a gender swap that is used only for turning her into a repressed sexpot making advances on Paul. Louise Linton’s strangely smoky drawl definitely distinguishes this Deputy Winston, but Giuseppe Andrews’ fan favorite performance in the role is unquestionably more fun.
Choosing one version over the other comes down to a personal preference for level of subtlety desired in the disparate depictions. “Cabin Fever” 2016 takes the youthful energy the cabin-camping quintet had on their first go and exchanges it for calmer characterizations that are subdued to the point of staleness. Anyone turned off by the college kid vibe of the first film might find these incarnations less irritating, but morphing Bert from a jock-like bro to a geeky Thomas Middleditch lookalike twists his gun-carrying menace into an out of character trait. Such switches start reading as changes for changes sake without adding context or substance.
What of those unfamiliar with the original who go into this one blind? In that case, “Cabin Fever” is probably on par with any average Blumhouse or Screen Gems release for straightforward fright fare. Cinematography is sharp. Editing is tight. The entire picture shines bright with the polish of a professional production with enough horrible happenings to keep gorehounds happy. "Cabin Fever" perhaps puts forth more effort than it needs in places. Kevin Riepl’s score is well done, though unnecessarily overdramatic for the horror at hand. His orchestral strains and chanting choirs would make a better accompaniment to an army of terminators laying siege to Los Angeles than to a foot chase between two men in the woods.
“Cabin Fever” is just missing the extra spirit in its step that made the original goofy as well as gory. Travis Z makes something different using the same script, but turning the sexiness volume this far down highlights exactly what Eli Roth adds to make something “an Eli Roth film.” And it would take a particular hatred for that Eli Roth brand to find favor for this film’s far more serious style.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 60