Dir: Eli Roth. US. 2002 94 min.
This is not the next Blair Witch Project, nor does it aim to be. Cabin Fever is a throwback to the minimalism and stasis of a George Romero zombie movie. Indeed, the film says more about first-time filmmaker Eli Roth's attentive viewing of horror classics than his own ability to sustain a narrative over 90 minutes. Not to be confused with Norway's first Dogme film, also entitled Cabin Fever, this is a marginally entertaining chiller with a good-looking cast, some great location photography and nothing to contribute to the genre. Still, it does what it does well enough to ensure a place in next summer's date-movie line-up; although it's not smart enough to catch fire with older viewers. Lions Gate, which picked up North American rights at Toronto, plans a 2,000 screen release in July 2003. With no names in the cast, a theatrical future beyond North America will hinge on box office gold in the domestic market.
Recognising that the likes of Scream and Scary Movie have exhausted the potential for self-parody, Roth takes the grass-roots approach and tells the story straight-up.
With doom stamped on their cute little foreheads, the standard-issue student group - three men, two women, their whole lives before them - heads into the back country of Deliverance, USA. On their way to the standard-issue remote log cabin they encounter the standard-issue inbred locals, complete with fear-biting feral child. Upon arrival at the log cabin, Couple A has sex, Couple B goes for a walk and the fifth-wheel lone male takes a rifle to go shoot innocent forest creatures. An errant shot hits a forest dweller, an apparent madman with a very bad skin condition. It's not long before his festering corpse explodes inside the group's pick-up truck, cutting off their means of escape and exposing them to the source of his cosmetic problem, a flesh-eating disease.
The disease also eats logic. When one of the females begins to succumb, her fellow campers understandably want to avoid infection. But instead of running for help, they drag the poor woman out of the cabin to a wood shed and then wonder why she sulkily rejects the meals they deliver to her. When finally they do seek assistance, the nearest house, a comfortable suburban home, is actually close-by.
Roth has a knack for making things go 'bump' in broad daylight but he and co-screenwriter Randy Pearlstein betray no talent for story-telling or dialogue. A flesh-eating disease is not as compelling as a zombie and Roth offers no solution to this crisis in action. The film feels long after the first hour and the final stretch of screaming and shouting leads to a punch line that would have been more welcome 20 minutes earlier.
Roth's short film, Restaurant Dogs, was a division winner at the Student Academy Awards in 1995. Apparently, he wrote this script while working as a personal alarm clock for US shock radio personality Howard Stern. Since then, Roth has been a protégé of David Lynch's and produced a number of shorts for Lynch's website. It will be interesting to see what he can do with a decent script.
Prod co: Tonic Films
US dist: Lions Gate
Int'l sales: Turtles Crossing
Exec prod: Susan Jackson
Prods: Lauren Moews, Roth, Sam Froelich, Evan Astrowsky
Scr: Roth, Randy Pearlstein
Cinematography: Scott Kevan
Prod des: Franco-Giacomo Carbone
Ed: George Folsey Jr, Ryan Folsey
Music: Nathan Barr
Main cast: Jordan Ladd, James DeBello, Rider Strong, Joey Kern, Cerina Vincent