In 2002, Eli Roth directed his breakout film based on a script that people had told him for six years was unfilmable. The film was Cabin Fever and it became a breakout hit that made Eli Roth a name that any respectable horror fan is well acquainted with. Now, almost 15 years and two botched sequels later, Roth’s debut feature is getting a remake. Not a reboot, which has become the ubiquitous fate of horror franchises that have run their course, but a remake. In fact, the most interesting thing about this year’s Cabin Fever is that it uses the same exact script almost line for line.The story remains the same. Five kids drive out to a remote cabin, looking for rest and relaxation but finding instead a flesh-eating virus. Alone and surrounded by not so friendly locals, the five soon turn on each other as sickness and paranoia take hold. If you’re familiar with the original film, this may feel a bit like deja vu. The story is almost note for note the same, except for a few surprises.
It’s impossible to discuss Travis Zarinwy’s Cabin Fever without comparing it to Roth’s film. In fact, I’d argue there’s no point. If you haven’t seen Roth’s original, stop reading this, and watch it. Spoiler alert: it’s the better movie. The 2016 version of Cabin Fever plays like a border line experimental film. One can’t help but be reminded of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, another shot for shot remake. Like Van Sant’s Psycho, Cabin Fever takes great joy in recreating scenes, begging to be compared to the original. Travis Zarinwy’s film does occasionally manage to play with expectations in clever or interesting ways, but the moments are few and far between.
The core cast of characters is almost entirely the same, although the acting in this rendition takes a significant hit. Paul, the film’s lead, played by Rider Strong in the original, is filled by Matthew Daddario, who brings little new to the role, and has none of Rider’s tragic innocence. Bert the stoner jock has been replaced by Bert the stoner gamer played by Dustin Ingram, doing a poor man’s impression of Thomas Middleditch from Silicon Valley. Samuel Davis plays Paul and does very little with the little he’s given. Gage Golightly plays the role of Karen, the first to get sick, who suffers from some poor directing choices. Nadine Crocker brings some gravitas to the role of Marcy, but the film seems little interested in using it.
The most interesting casting choice is in Deputy Winston, who was played by the fabulously sleazy Giuseppe Andrews in Roth’s version. Here’s Winston is played by Louise Linton, who brings a fascinating new life to the character. Her rendition of the deputy is a glimpse into what the film could have been, had it been more adventurous with its casting choices. The new cast merely blends into the shadows of the original roles. Even the pancake shouting Dennis is blander in this version.
The largest change to the film are to its death sequences, which are all changed in some way. But if you’re looking for a rawer, gorier Cabin Fever, this is going to disappoint. While there might be a bit more on screen carnage in this version, it has none of the gleeful viciousness of the original; Roth knows his gore, this Travis Z fella, I’m not so sure. And while Gavin Kelly’s cinematography is probably sleeker than the original, the film loses almost all it’s grit and punch. In the original, a nearly faceless Karen pleads with her eyes to be put out of her misery. In this version, we get a ‘Kill me! Kill me!’ scene that devolves into borderline slapstick. And the now legendary leg shaving scene isn’t nearly as gag inducing. These scenes don’t take on new life, they just make you wish you were watching Roth’s original.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
This is not the definitive Cabin Fever. If you haven’t seen Roth’s original, I already told you, watch that version. However, if you are a fan of the original, this might be worth the cost of a rental, just to satisfy your curiosity, and maybe gain a new appreciation for the original. Travis Zariwny wanted to create a Cabin Fever for ‘a new generation of horror fans’. Unfortunately, I think the Cabin Fever for the next generation, and the generation after that, will be Roth’s Cabin Fever.