Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Kaare Andrews
Writer: Jake Wade Wall
Producer: Evan Astrowsky, Jasbinder Singh Mann
Stars: Ryan Donowho, Brando Eaton, Jillian Murray, Mitch Ryan, Solly Duran, Lydia Hearst, Claudette Lali, Currie Graham, Sean Astin
A bachelor party on a secluded island uncovers a secret lab attempting to contain a fatal flesh-eating virus.
Taken as a standalone entity or as a sequel/prequel in the “Cabin Fever” franchise, “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero” is not terribly enjoyable as either. Perhaps the IP stakeholders were eager to move past the poor reception of “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever” and wanted to reboot the series with a different tone. If so, then their new direction is a disappointing one of routine horror movie mediocrity. But having “Cabin Fever” in the title gives seasoned audiences a particular expectation, and this is an established standard that “Patient Zero” does not live up to.
The first film took place near a populated town where a virus threatened to spread if it was not contained. An entire high school and bottled water supply were contaminated in the second movie. Here, it is difficult to sense the same sort of threatening menace when the danger is confined to four people on a secluded island in the Dominican Republic.
Along with his buddy Dobs, his brother Josh, and his brother’s girlfriend Penny, Marcus sets sail towards a secluded Caribbean island for a low-key bachelor party. Before the festivities can be cut short by a flesh-eating virus infecting the foursome, more conventional character conflict is introduced.
With Marcus marrying into money, his friends are concerned he is ashamed of his blue collar past and by extension, them. Penny once had a fling with Marcus, and there are still unresolved issues in that love triangle with Josh. Dobs is worried that a prime position for Marcus in his father-in-law’s firm will spell the end for the young duo’s struggling business.
“Cabin Fever” (review here) featured hard-partying college kids cracking wise, firing bb guns at squirrels, and running afoul of colorful locals. “Cabin Fever 2” (review here) had smart-mouth teens fawning over crushes, planning a genre movie marathon, and daring each other to have sex with an obese girl. Maybe that behavior was empty, but at least those characters were fun to spend time with. If nothing else, Deputy Winston lightened the mood. The core quartet of “Patient Zero” on the other hand, deals with a lot of mopey first world problems which make them a chore to be around. Not only are they dull, they are unsympathetic.
Running concurrently is a second storyline involving the titular patient zero, played by Sean Astin. If there is any standout element to “Patient Zero” besides some impressive practical makeup effects, it is Astin’s performance. Patient zero is an on-the-edge family man imprisoned like a lab rat while scientists endeavor to discover why he exhibits no symptoms despite carrying the virus. Astin puts a subdued mania into the role that takes exactly the amount needed from pools of emotionally broken family man, frustrated test subject, and potentially dangerous psychopath.
Unfortunately, his is a character locked in a quarantine chamber of clichés. Occupying the lab is a doctor whose self-centered interest in the project makes him callous towards Astin’s plight. A female scientist provides emotional counterbalance by being the one person attentive to Astin. It is an almost painfully predictable plot of corporate coverup, experiment gone wrong, and other details seen dozens of times in the “Resident Evil” series and films of that ilk.
The changeup from fright flick tinted by dark comedy to straight horror with this third installment appears intentional, so it begs the question, what makes this a “Cabin Fever” movie other than the title? “Patient Zero” is missing the personality that its predecessors had, and it is not just the absent streak of humor.
The movie lacks a freewheeling spirit of taking creative risks by putting most of the production on a straight and narrow line. Or rather two lines, since the simultaneous stories feel separate until their climactic intertwining, making for a viewing experience that can feel like flipping between two programs on a TV.
The whole speed of the film does not exactly drag, but there are individual scenes that go on too long. An overuse of slo-mo in instances where it has little impact is also conspicuous. Novel gore gags pick things up, particularly a limb-tearing battle between two of the infected, but there are a lot of “been there, done that” moments lacking a personal style.
Lights flicker moodily while two friends cautiously explore a bloody lab. Some pointless foreboding from a Santeria gypsy provides a “beware!” moment. It is hard to ignore such by-the-numbers staging coming across as uninspired and unoriginal.
Director Kaare Andrews had one of the most inventive segments in “The ABCs of Death” anthology, and his background in sequential art has clearly given him a keen eye for cinema. But this script is not the right fit for him, or for the franchise, since the signature of neither one can barely be felt in the flat film.
Review Score: 45