Saturday, February 13, 2016

In Theaters/On VOD: CABIN FEVER (2016)

(US - 2016)

Directed by Travis Z. Written by Eli Roth and Randy Pearlstein. Cast: Gage Golightly, Matthew Daddario, Samuel Davis, Nadine Crocker, Dustin Ingram, Louise Linton, Timothy G. Zajaros, Randy Schulman, Derrick Means, Teresa Decher. (Unrated, 98 mins)

Regardless of your stance on him and his significance to today's horror scene, there's no denying Eli Roth enthusiastically wears his love of cult horror cinema on his sleeve. Adored by horror fanboys but sometimes dismissed by purists, Roth has a tendency to let his juvenile sense of humor undermine his credibility, but his HOSTEL PART II did a great job of paying homage to '70s Italian thrillers, right down to his successfully luring both Edwige Fenech and Luc Merenda out of retirement for small roles. In addition, KNOCK KNOCK, his recent update of the 1977 home invasion sexploitationer DEATH GAME, was surprisingly engaging, and the gorefest THE GREEN INFERNO, his SJW take on the Italian cannibal films of Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi, had its positives when his dudebro humor wasn't getting in the way. But by producing and giving his seal of approval to CABIN FEVER, a not-quite-but-pretty-damn-near scene-for-scene remake of his own 2003 debut, with directing duties handed off to veteran B-movie production designer/set decorator-turned-filmmaker Travis Zariwny under his new convention-ready, cool-guy moniker "Travis Z," Roth finally, at long last, pays loving tribute to the most important and influential cult horror movie figure in his life: Eli Roth.

The cinematic equivalent of watching Roth jerk off to a mirror, CABIN FEVER '16 is a legitimate contender for the most pointless film ever (re)made, coming just 13 years after the original, and just a year and a half after its most recent sequel, CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO. I could see if CABIN FEVER '03 was a foreign language film and maybe some producer thought an American remake had potential, but it's not even a decade and a half old and we've got a remake of CABIN FEVER? And not only is Roth just one of the truckload of credited producers, but the remake even uses the same script he co-wrote with Randy Pearlstein. Sure, Travis Z--a name more suited for the showboating bassist in a C-grade, circa 2002 Linkin Park knockoff that never made it beyond the club circuit--claims he whittled Roth's script down from 122 pages to 94, but somehow, the new CABIN FEVER is slower, feels much longer than 98 minutes (the exact running time of Roth's director's cut of the 2003 version), and has no sense of pacing whatsoever. Travis Z also jettisons almost all of the humor in Roth's original script, with the exception of bite-happy, "Pancakes!"-shouting Dennis, but even in Dennis' new incarnation (played by Derrick Means), his antics have been toned down significantly, and there isn't even a "Please Don't Sit Next to Dennis" sign. In an apparent concession to Generation Trigger Warning, Travis Z has also dumped the racist commentary of the general store cashier that had a legitimately funny payoff at the end. Roth and Pearlstein started writing their CABIN FEVER script when they were roommates at NYU in 1995. Though it was another seven years before they actually made the movie, the script is very much the work of young, dumb college guys who have a lot of growing up to do. CABIN FEVER '03 had a lot of problems, but it delivered the grisly gore and had enough of an oddball aura to it that it remains the one Roth film where his immaturity wasn't problematic. In nearly every way, it's an obvious first movie.

Travis Z doesn't seem to understand that. If there's one thing CABIN FEVER didn't need to be, it's stone-faced serious, which is certainly the mood established by this remake. The story of five college students whose weekend partying at a remote cabin in the woods is ruined by the rampant spreading of a flesh-eating virus, CABIN FEVER should be about gore and T&A. It still is, but in Travis Z's hands, it's a miserable slog. Not helping at all is the bombastic score by Kevin Riepl, who's not quite in the league of the coup Roth scored with CABIN FEVER '03 by getting the great Angelo Badalamenti onboard. CABIN FEVER '16 has a lot of gore (yes, the leg-shaving scene is still here), but deviates in other very minor ways: a couple of the deaths happen to different characters, and CABIN FEVER '03's doofy Deputy Winston (Giuseppe Andrews) is now a sultry blonde Deputy Winston (Louise Linton's performance is the only thing hinting at the bizarre eccentricities of the original, but she only has a couple of scenes). It's a pretty solid ballpark estimate to say 90% of CABIN FEVER '16 is identical to CABIN FEVER '03, but with even more forgettable actors (not only that, but none of them have an awesome, born-with-a-porn-actor-name like '03 star Rider Strong), much slower pacing, and a Why-So-Serious? tone that drains any possible enjoyment from the proceedings, it's an insurmountable struggle to ascertain why this thing even exists or who its intended audience might be.

I realize today's youth can't seem to get into old movies and aren't especially adept at grasping the concept of pop culture that existed prior to their lifetime, but is 2003 really that long ago? CABIN FEVER '16 offers no new perspective, unless you count an early shout-out to THE SHINING. What once remained subtext--the appearance of a mysterious hiker calling himself Grim (played in Shyamalanian fashion by Roth in the '03 film) as a harbinger of the Grim Reaper--now has to be completely sounded out real slow-like to help today's dumb and inattentive audiences make the connection (played by Timothy G. Zajaros, '16's Grim now says "Call me Grim...you know, like the Grim Reaper"), and the changes range from inconsequential at best to damaging at worst, with none making any improvements to the original--no classic, itself--in any way (and what's with the dumb, pseudo-meta scene in the middle of the end credits?). CABIN FEVER '16 looks polished and professional and Travis Z's work is sufficiently functional on a technical level, but here's my dilemma: I can't decide if this film is Roth's ultimate act of self-aggrandizement or if the whole thing is an elaborate, middle-finger punking of the horror scenester, with Roth destroying the fanboy world from within to prove that they'll blindly go along with and give a blank-check pass to anything with his name on it. I doubt that much thought and ambition went into this remake, so the only real conclusion to be drawn is that at the end of the day, no matter how much he's weighed down by sycophantic fans latched on to his nutsack, nobody loves Eli Roth more than Eli Roth.

1 comment:

  1. "The cinematic equivalent of watching Roth jerk off to a mirror" Best line ever (and sadly a true telling of Roth's egotism).