JUNE 29, 2016
The only thing that could get me to have any real appreciation of this Cabin Fever remake is if the producers decided to make it an annual (or semi-annual) thing, where they keep the same script but let new filmmakers and cast members reinterpret it however they see fit. And then every year or two we'd have another one that may be more in line with our own particular sensibilities, and we as horror fans could spend hours debating about which was "the best", toss around other ideas they could utilize for future versions, etc. Because as it stands right now (and, let's be real here, probably always will be), it's just a - THE - weaker version of a story that wasn't exactly groundbreaking in the first place, without nearly enough difference from the original to give it any life of its own.
If you're a bit lost due to not having heard about the film's genesis yet, let me bring you up to speed. Instead of making the promised (threatened?) fourth film in the series, the producers have opted to just do a remake of Eli Roth's original, using his script (co-written by Randy Pearlstein) with a few variations and modern touches (cell phones that take photos and a guy whining that there's no way to play Minecraft out there in the wifi-free woods) to keep it out of Van Sant Psycho territory. This isn't like Snyder's Dawn of the Dead or even Rob Zombie's Halloween - it's literally the same movie, with minor diversions that are no different than you might see from any film's shooting script to its finished product. Maybe someone says something like "Come over here right now!" when the script says "Get the hell over here!", or maybe some minor scenes are shifted around a bit, but it's, for all intents and purposes, the same damn thing. For a movie that's not even 15 years old! Some of us might even be driving the same car we had when the first film came out - that's how not-old it is.
(The rest of the review assumes you've seen the original, so beware of spoilers if you haven't!)
That said, there is one crucial difference: it's not as funny (or "funny" if you prefer). Roth's frat-guy humor has been toned down or excised entirely (the "that's for the n-----s" gag has been removed, and Bert has a different reason for killing squirrels than "they're gay"), and the tone of otherwise intact moments has been shifted. Jeff, for example, was kind of this preppy douche caricature in the original (his huffy walk off with the beer still cracks me up), but here he's just a regular asshole with no real personality at all. Bert is also far less memorable than the James DeBello version; his redneck-ish demeanor has been shaved off and he's just kind of a weirdo (and his single shot rifle is now an AR-15 kind of thing, a really bizarre decision on the filmmakers' part considering the weapon's controversial existence these days). The other three characters are more or less identical to their 2002 counterparts, though Winston gets the biggest change - it's now a woman, and a less ridiculous one at that (again, the movie has very little humor this time around). It might have been fun to see a female cop skeeving on teenaged boys (or girls again, no judgment here) at the lamest party ever, but when that scene comes they just skip over Winston's dialogue entirely. It's not even clear what the hell she's doing there since she's not interacting with any of the kids - Paul just shows up and starts grilling her where the tow truck is.
He also doesn't kill the partygoers, so it's a nearly identical remake where one of the changes is less carnage. Some other bits have been embellished, like the three shop guys chasing Bert back to the cabin, but the party and other parts of the climax have been trimmed of their excess. I assume the reason for this (besides budgetary) is because it added to the film's emphasis on taking the story a little more serious than Roth did, as the new director (Travis Z) seems to want to make this a little more traditionally scary and grim, which would be fine if he wasn't tied to a series of events we've already seen play out. It's hard to get tensed up when the dog shows up seemingly wanting to eat Marcy, because by that point we know the movie isn't going to do anything different. He's slightly more successful when he aims for something a little more melancholy during a few key moments, however. Karen's death, for example - Paul can't bring himself to do it with the shovel all the way, so he immolates her (which seems more painful for her), and the music - one of the film's few bright spots - goes into pure tragic mode, like this actually WAS Cabin Fever 4 and we just lost one of the series' most beloved characters. There are a couple other moments where it seems they want you to feel bad for these folks, unlike the original where it seems Roth was laughing at their misery.
Unfortunately for these folks, my sensibilities inch closer to Eli's than theirs, so I missed this element, and thus had very little use for the film. It wasn't telling a new story, it wasn't using my knowledge of the original against me like the Night of the Living Dead remake did (by doing the same thing for a while and then pivoting), it was just... mimicking a relatively recent movie beat for beat, except it'd occasionally leave something out for whatever reason. At its best, it's at least technically proficient and features some lovely Oregon scenery (an upgrade from the original's North Carolina), but more often than not it's just a humorless redo with less appeal, with bits like "Pancakes!" falling completely flat. Even some of the attempts at making the script their own just feel pointless, like when the store guy asks why Bert would steal the candy bar. Instead of the original, simple "The nougat?", we get something like "Would you believe me if I said it was for the nougat?", which reminded me of Zombie-ween's laughable "As a matter of fact, I DO BELIEVE it was" line, in that it comes off as mocking the original line more than an organic thing the character would be saying. It also sets up Bert as being above the backwoods folk, whereas in the original it almost felt like he belonged there with them. We already have Jeff filling the role of "superior douchebag" - why is Bert acting the same way?
The makeup FX look good, at least. There are more practical FX people listed in the credits than VFX (i.e. CGI) ones, which is a relief, and they do a fine job with the gradual degradation of the infected characters (particularly Paul). Travis Z doesn't seem to want to top Eli in the gore department, but he makes those moments count within the context of being a little more realistic and less over-the-top with his approach. That said, I am disappointed (spoiler for a new change to the ending here!) that he opted to give Jeff the virus before being gunned down (same as in the original), as it originally served as his just desserts for being an asshole and leaving his girlfriend to die. Now he's gonna die anyway, so who cares how it happens? The end also doesn't set up as big of an outbreak (no lemonade), opting instead for a pretty dumb epilogue where one of the friends who didn't go with them sees pictures of their virus ravaged bodies on Facebook. And yes, you might wonder why someone would post a picture of their looming demise on social media, but there's an earlier throwaway line about pictures uploading automatically when a signal is available, giving the movie the flimsiest of explanations for a moment that's completely useless anyway (unless the virus can travel through the internet, who gives a shit if someone we never saw before is aware of what it does to a victim?).
The only feature on the disc besides the trailer is a fairly short making of, where a few comparisons to the original are made but no one seems able to offer any good reason for doing this. Someone mentions that Eli (who is listed as an executive producer, which often means nothing - for example, Wes Craven died during season 1 of MTV's Scream and he's still listed as an EP on season 2) was excited that the new team would be able to do things he wasn't able to in the original, but I can't really see what he might have meant. The things that are different do not seem to be of the expensive or elaborate nature; if anything the original had even MORE production value as it had a couple more locations (no hospital this time) and characters. Maybe the movie did have something more to it and it was excised for one reason or another, but as they freely admit cutting Roth's script down by 30 pages I doubt that. At any rate, if you weren't a fan of the humor in the original and just want to see folks be eaten away by a virus, this should satisfy you - but if you ARE a fan, I think you'll agree that there is pretty much zero reason to watch this beyond mild curiosity, and that "appeal" will probably run out after about 20 minutes anyway.
What say you?