Mark Reviews Movies


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Eli Roth

Cast: Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, Joey Kern, Cerina Vincent, James DeBello, Giuseppe Andrews, Arie Verveen

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence and gore, sexuality, language and brief drug use)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 9/12/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Cabin Fever's central motif is that of blood, and it's a powerful symbol in today's world in which that fluid carries across with it ideas of disease and death instead of life. There's something horrifying in the way blood paints the walls of the central cabin, signifying that death has taken over the location, and the interior of the heroes' truck, indicating that there is no escape. There's also the titular condition, which evokes, by its definition, a severe paranoia—in this case, specifically, of disease and death. These characters are scared of and to death, and they will do anything to escape. The redneck hicks, of course, represent…  I'm sorry; I can't keep this up anymore. Who am I kidding? Cabin Fever says nothing, even about these invented ideas. It's a big tease from the moment the opening credits end. This is the horror movie as farce. Take note that I did not say satire or spoof. It's an important point, because there is no lambasting or mockery of the genre within its boundaries. First-time director Eli Roth takes this material seriously, even in its ridiculous moments, of which there are too many for anyone else to take the movie seriously.

Speaking of the opening credits, they are the best thing in the movie. Set against an undistinguishable but disturbing background image with the sound of flies growing louder and louder, the credits set up an atmosphere of oncoming dread. Alas, then they end, and people arrive on screen. A group of stock college students arrive somewhere down in the old backwoods to stay for a week in a cabin. There's Paul (Rider Strong), the sexual predator disguised as a nice guy, Karen (Jordan Ladd), the girl next door, Jeff (Joey Kern), the sissy, Marcy (Cerina Vincent), the one who appears naked a lot, and Bert (James DeBello), the big, dumb jock who thinks squirrels are "gay."  Bert stumbles across a walking, talking, rotting person dubbed only as "The Hermit" (Arie Verveen). He scares him away by shooting him and at him. Later, though, the wandering, mumbling, decomposing vagrant shows up at the cabin wanting some help. When they refuse him, he tries to steal their truck, which sends the kids—armed with a gun, a baseball bat, a golf club, and a butcher knife—after him. They end up doing the humane thing by setting him on fire.

So the now immobile, mute, burnt corpse of the recluse is in the reservoir that provides the drinking water for the cabin, which means one by one the kids slowly succumb to the flesh-eating disease. It may sound intriguing, but the movie is about as scary as walking through a playground in broad daylight but twice as funny. As you can guess from the way they treat the desperate sick man, these guys freak out quickly, which doesn't allow us time to get scared with them, and the inane writing ensures that we don't get scared for them. First off, the dialogue contains such gems as, "That guy wanted our help; we set him on fire!"  That line is, obviously, dreadful, and of all the possible nuances available for saying that line, the actress fated to announce these now immortal words chooses the worst possible reading. Another tried and true clunker that makes an appearance here is "My God…  They're all dead."  If, as a screenwriter, you find your fingers typing these words, it's time to just give up for good. The acting doesn't help in this case—or the rest of the movie, for that matter—either. It's not the endearing sort of badness we've come to expect from actors in horror movies; instead, these kids think they're honing their naturalism.

Soon enough, however, the disease strikes and there's lots of blood and gore. Look at all the gross stuff. No, seriously look at it. There's rotting flesh and faces missing and dismembered body parts. It's just too bad it all looks completely unconvincing. Equally unimpressive are the majority of actions taken by the characters. Paul discovers the disease on Karen by sexually assaulting her, and later when he's trying to find help, he ruins his chances by spying on a naked woman in her home and subsequently being chased away by her husband. He does eventually get laid after Marcy compares their situation to "being on a plane that you know is going to crash."  I wonder if she speaks from firsthand experience. Now why she later thinks that the red marks on her back are from Paul being a little too rough when everyone around her is contracting a flesh-eating illness is unknown to me. Also questionable to me is why she continues to shave her legs after losing large chunks of skin in the process. Also completely, utterly, hopelessly lost on me is the scene where the weird kid outside the general store begins to shout "Pancakes!" and then proceeds to show off his martial arts skills in slow motion.

In the movie's very few legitimately clever moments, you can almost hear Roth and Pearlstein screaming from between the lines, "Look how clever this is!"  One character actually points out that he survived over and over and over and over and over again, and the only way to further telegraph what will happen next would be with subtitles. The climax of Cabin Fever seems to be heading in the direction of a predictable twist ending that never arrives (maybe that's what was in the hillbilly's mysterious box). Instead, the whole movie seems to exist to be a variation on the usual devious-backwoods-folk cliché, but Roth and Pearlstein don't even manage to make their creepy backwoods characters creepy in the first place. The whole thing is really just a big waste of time.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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