Cabin Fever: Inoculated, by David Bax
Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot Psycho remake has little worth other than as an experiment proving that there’s more to making a movie than assembling storyboards in order; perhaps actors are cattle, as Hitchcock suggested, but not all cattle are created equal. I was reminded of Van Sant’s noble failure of a film while watching Travis Zariwny’s remake of Eli Roth’s 2002 calling card, Cabin Fever. Zariwny (billed as “Travis Z” in an apparent attempt to gun for McG’s title as the director with the most obnoxious nom de plume) may not be quite as slavish as Van Sant but he also fails to differentiate his take in any way that might make it worthwhile. The main upshot to sitting through it might be an increased appreciation for the masturbating Vince Vaughn movie.
If you’ve seen the original, you don’t need the plot explained to you. It’s identical. If you haven’t, it’s still not too difficult to lay out. Five bland but attractive young adults embark on a weeklong getaway to a cabin on a wooded lake. Almost immediately, they begin to fall victim to a flesh-eating, blood-vomit-inducing infection that leads them to turn on one another and on the occasional local with a ferocity born not of the disease but of paranoia and self-preservation.
Zariwny uses the same screenplay as the 2002 film with only minor updates. Mercifully, the racist joke that bookends Roth’s movie is removed completely. And, in the interest of timeliness, the douchey comic relief character has been updated into a Gamergate bro. For the most part, though, everything is the same. One of the older film’s charms was its gruesome audacity. But when every line of dialogue is a carbon copy, the surprise is gone. It doesn’t help that Zariwny’s film feels tamer in the gore department to begin with.
Zariwny’s biggest and most unfortunate change (along with the universally wooden cast, that is) comes with the score. Nathan Barr and Angelo Badalamenti’s idiosyncratic, subtly creepy, melancholy-tinged music was one of the highlights of the original version. Here, it’s been replaced with a more conventional, opaquely bombastic score by Kevin Riepl, a veteran of the franchise, having provided the music for the second direct-to-video sequel, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, just two years ago. His alternately plaintive and percussive contributions sound like they could be scratch track files labeled “foreboding” or “intense.”
That same po-faced denseness is on display when it comes to the fumbling of the original’s most successful element, the humor. Roth made an outrageously dark comedy that was unabashedly but somehow appealingly dumb. Zariwny won’t commit in that respect. He’s unwilling to crank up the blood vomit to a degree that would invite queasy laughter. He even dampens the goofiness of the goofy local deputy.
Just on paper, it’s hard enough to make a case for a remake of a minor hit that’s only fourteen years old. This new Cabin Fever, by being overly faithful to everything except the stuff that worked the best about its predecessor, manages to double down on the pointlessness. This movie is irrelevant twice over.