It's no secret that the teens-in-peril film that came into vogue in the late 1970s and lasted through
the 90s has devolved into a set of tired clichés. So when CABIN FEVER became a surprise hit at the
2002 Toronto Film Festival's midnight screenings, credit for reinvigorating the genre fell to writer-director
Eli Roth. The key to its success is that CABIN FEVER doesn't employ an outsider as a threat; instead
it uses a flesh-eating virus as its "villain."
The film begins with a short prologue in which a hermit (Arie Verveen) is exposed to the mysterious
blood disease when he returns home and discovers his dog has suffered a terrible death. Roth then cuts
to the "heroes" of the piece -- five foul-mouthed college students on break. There's Karen, the blonde
(Jordan Ladd), Paul, the virginal guy in love with her (Ryder Strong), the tough-talking brunette Marcy
(Cerina Vincent), her horny boyfriend Jeff (Joey Kern), and the fifth wheel, the goofy Bert (James DeBello).
The quintet is heading for a vacation in a deserted cabin in the woods. They stop for some supplies in the
nearest town and encounter oddball yokels who appear to be rejects from DELIVERANCE.
Once at the bucolic retreat, Marcy and Jeff head to the bedroom for sex, Karen and Paul go
swimming and confess their mutual attraction and Bert heads off with a beer bottle in one hand and a
BB gun in the other. Not much happens until the hermit from the prologue approaches Bert for help.
Scared and disgusted by the man (who has been disfigured by the flesh-eating virus), Bert shoots at him
and then hightails it back to the cabin. Eventually, of course, the hermit shows up and the teens panic,
especially as the man liberally sprays blood everywhere. In the course of the confrontation, the teen's
vehicle is damaged and the hermit is set ablaze. From there, it only becomes a matter of time before
one (or all) of the teens becomes infected.
The film has some chills and creepy moments but overall it ranks as something of a disappointment.
In the typical film, the teens who have sex fall victim first. Roth opts to allow Ladd's Karen to be the first
to become infected, although her condition is discovered in a sexual situation. Gradually, the virus spreads.
If Roth intended this as a metaphor for AIDS or another sexually-transmitted disease, then he has fallen
victim to the biggest cliché in the genre. (If it supposed to be AIDS, it's a little insulting, particularly
because the word "gay" is used numerous times in a negative connotation that verges on the homophobic.)
The actors all manage to do yeoman work. Ladd has the funniest (if unintentionally so) line regarding
the hermit: "he came for help and we set him on fire." The standout in the cast, however, is Giuseppe
Andrews playing a party-loving deputy.
Many critics have mistakenly compared CABIN FEVER with the superior 28 DAYS LATER...
these films merely share a blood-born virus in common. Roth's direction is assured while his screenwriting
could stand some improvement. As a first film, CABIN FEVER (which comes with a ringing endorsement
from New Zealand writer-director Peter Jackson) does show potential. It's not the best of its kind, but there
are worse examples.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and gore, sexuality, language and brief drug use
Running time: 94 mins.
Viewed at Magno Review One
|© 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.