Dooming five college kids in the woods to a flesh-eating virus, 2003’s gnarly, proudly blood-drenched and delightfully oddball Cabin Fever put director Eli Roth on the map. That film only came out thirteen years ago, which evidently means it’s time for someone to remake it; even after two non-theatrical sequels tried to capitalize on the first film with little success. Surprisingly, Roth gave his blessing and executive produced. But the question is, did we really need a do-over that was already a homage to the backwoods splatter pics of the ‘70s and ‘80s? It’s something of a curiosity piece, primarily to see how close this one clings to the original and how different actors approach the material, but whether it’s worth the while of anyone who already got a kick out of Roth’s vision is another matter. Despite a few slight variations from Roth and Randy Pearlstein’s 2003 script, director Travis Zariwny (credited as Travis Z) hits all the same plot beats, scene for scene, like some road-company version. It’s still nasty, all right, but 2016’s Cabin Fever has to be one of the most unnecessary remakes to come down the pike in a while. At least Gus Van Sant’s Psycho (1998) felt like an ambitious experiment rather than a straight-up Xerox copy.
Perhaps you remember the story. Off to the Oregon woods for a little R&R, without any phone service or even pot, five college dingbats stumble into a not-so-friendly encounter with the redneck general store owner and his “pancake!”-shouting son Dennis; who now wears a bunny mask out of a paper plate. Nice guy Paul (Samuel Davis) gets his hand bitten by Dennis and then Bert (Dustin Ingram)- the beer-crushing doofus of the group- shop-lifts a Snickers bar. Once the group arrives to their rented cabin, cruelly handsome Jeff (Matthew Daddario) and beautiful, but edgy, girlfriend Marcy (Nadine Crocker) get busy in the bedroom. All while Paul tries to put the moves on longtime friend Karen (Gage Golightly) in the lake. Meanwhile, Bert replaces his gaming withdrawals with a rifle in the woods, coming across a local hermit who’s bleeding severely and infected with a virus. It’s not long before the sick man comes knocking at the cabin, asking for help, instead spreading his sickness to all five of the young things. Let the rotting begin, again.
Professionally well-made but strictly by-the-numbers, Cabin Fever is just baffling in its existence. It does try for a more serious, less darkly comic vibe, but all that’s really left is a facsimile; missing the same quirky, off-the-wall personality and irony-dipped punchline involving the seemingly racist Old Man Caldwell. The only surprise stems from waiting to see whether or not there will be any departure from the original script, however, that sort of thing does not lend itself to a recommendation.
Interestingly, Burt and Karen’s individual uses of the word “gay” have been excised this time. And, when Paul tells a twisted, traumatic campfire tale to his four friends about a disgruntled employee who ended up dismembering everyone in the bowling alley of his hometown, there is no visual interjection of the tale itself. There is the gender switch for Deputy Winston with Louise Linton, putting a more flirtatious spin on the party-animal cop, first portrayed with dopey inspiration by Giuseppe Andrews. Moreover, there are a few changes in the final twenty minutes; particularly Paul’s run for survival after falling into the nearby reservoir. While the memorably skin-crawling leg-shaving scene with Marcy is protracted but decidedly less effective. The only one original payoff here involves the setup of Karen snapping photos of herself with her phone and uploading them onto social media before and after she becomes a rotting blonde.
Since 2016’s Cabin Fever is content on being so slavishly respectful to the level of pointlessness, it unavoidably invites constant comparison and cannot help but be distinctly inferior. Director Eli Roth had such a way with the camera in his promising debut, but any sort of style is pretty invisible here from Travis Z. The performances are competent but nondescript, carried out by a blandly good-looking cast. There’s also no erasing the off-kilter vibe from Nathan Barr’s dissonant, menacing score and Angelo Badalamenti’s thematic compositions. Here, Kevin Riepl’s music shamelessly makes a direct riff on the main titles of The Shining in the opening that similarly tracks the characters’ jeep around a winding road. Then, in a few key moments, director Travis Z relies on the score’s insistent pounding, as if a Tyrannosaurus Rex was on the warpath. Finally, in what might sound like the biggest nitpick, the cabin itself is even too spacious to create the level of claustrophobia and paranoia of the original. It really is a testament to the efforts of Roth, his original cast and production crew, proving that lightning can’t strike twice even when the same script is used.
Cabin Fever is currently infecting select theaters, VOD, iTunes, Amazon & X-Box.