You know the story. It’s about five college students who rent a cabin in the woods to celebrate the end of finals, only they end up dropping like flies. Or, in this case, getting eaten by flies.
Because, this time, there is no family of cannibals lurking in the woods hoping to make them their next victims. Instead, the flesh-eating monster comes from the inside, in the form of a virus.
There lies the biggest factor in making Cabin Fever an unusual horror film: there is no evil. The characters that carry this deadly virus do not suddenly become zombies without souls (a la 28 Days Later) but retain their sense of humanity.
Not wishing harm to anyone, they plead for their lives, but due to their contagion, only stir up fear in those they approach.
As a result, what creates the suspense here is the paranoia (though warranted) of the other characters who begin to fear for their own lives.
Torn between wanting to help their friends and their desire to run away, the situation quickly becomes reminiscent of Albert Camus’ La Peste (a comparison for which I know I will pay dearly).
It becomes clear very early in the movie who we are supposed to root for. In a genre where people get punished for smoking, drinking, and having pre-marital sex, Paul is still too shy to admit that he’s had a crush on his friend Karen since the 8th grade.
Plus, the character is played by Rider Strong (from TV sitcom Boy Meets World ‘fame’), which makes him the only recognizable figure in the movie.
However, some new elements come in to slightly modify the age-old horror-movie rules mentioned above.
A new offence is that many characters utter homophobic comments throughout the film, and one cannot help but feel that the characters end up paying for them. As the times change, so do the rules, I guess.
Also, there is irony in the fact that some of the characters might have been saved had they stuck to their bet that they would drink nothing but beer for the entire weekend – the virus gets transmitted mainly through the water – a clear reversal of the rules.
It would have been nice had the writers (Eli Roth, who also directed, and Randy Pearlstein) used such creativity when it came time to depict the local community.
I know this is supposed to be a Southern country town in the middle of nowhere, but does that really justify all the neighbours being psychotic rifle-totin’ lunatics?
Horror flicks have depended on such ignorant cliches for just a bit too long.
Cabin Fever is the type of film that’s hard to classify. As such, I would compare it to There’s Something About Mary or, if I were to stick to the same genre, the Evil Dead series. Like those films Cabin Fever refuses to take itself too seriously, which makes it hard to dislike.
The fact that humorous moments spring up in the most inappropriate places is a testament to such an attitude from the filmmakers.
Ultimately, even though the story isn’t anything new, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I had never seen a motion picture quite like Cabin Fever before.
*Now playing at the AMC Forum.