2003's "Cabin Fever
" may have been a loving, bloodied throwback to low-budget horror cinema of the 1970s (a few soundtrack cues were even directly lifted from 1972's "The Last House on the Left"), but Eli Roth's feature writing-directing debut still feels current. Financially more modest than the runaway success of 1999's "The Blair Witch Project
," this $1.5-million indie nevertheless broke out, getting picked up by major distributor Lionsgate, going out in wide release, and making a comparative bundle in initial U.S. theatrical receipts alone ($21.1 million). The arguable start of a new trend toward more extreme mainstream efforts2004's James Wan-directed "Saw
" came out a year later"Cabin Fever" is very much a horror movie of the post-9/11 era. The decision to remake it little more than a decade later with the exact same script co-written by Roth and Randy Pearlstein is but a cynical cash grab. Indeed, the pessimistic presumption that teenagers from 2016 could never be bothered to watch a movie from 2003 is nothing if not a stark comment on the state of present-day Hollywood.
Marketing materials for the new, unimproved "Cabin Fever" admit the story is exactly the samefive college friends on a remote cabin getaway are terrorized by a contagious, flesh-eating virus that unknowingly seeps into their water supplybut claim there are "all-new characters and all-new kills." Such a statement is a decided stretch; there might be one mode of death slightly different (and certainly more needlessly graphic) than the one in the first film, while a single character, Deputy Winston, receives a gender change (the role was previously played by Giuseppe Andrews and is now portrayed by Louise Linton). All character names, including Winston's, remain the same. Scene-for-scene, line-for-line, the film is so close to its predecessor it is no surprise the original screenplay has been recycled. This isn't a clever experiment in form the way Gus Van Sant's underappreciated 1998 "Psycho" remake wasand, keep in mind, 38 years had passed between it and Alfred Hitchcock's immortal 1960 classicbut a desperate, shameless, pointless ploy to bleed a few extra dollars out of a franchise without even bothering to put a fresh spin on it.
It is admittedly difficult to judge 2016's "Cabin Fever" on its own respective merits because it is so intrinsically similar to the 2003 version
. The film is, for the most part, slickly shot, and the actorsparticularly Samuel Davis (2013's "Machete Kills
") as lead Paul, Gage Golightly (Amazon Studio's "Red Oaks") as longtime classmate and crush Karen, and Nadine Crocker as the practical, uninhibited Marcygive their all in physically and emotionally demanding parts that don't deserve them. The trouble with "Cabin Fever" is there is no spontaneity, every beat and every gag stodgily telegraphed by its familiar source material. The film is occasionally jolting in its gruesomeness, but terminally by-the-numbers. What was director Travis Zariwny (credited here as Travis Z) trying to prove with this derivative exercise? The answer is anyone's guess. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, executive producer Eli Roth must be squealing all the way to the bank.