Remake culture is a particularly fascinating realm of modern cinema, particularly in terms of the horror film, the genre that unquestionably features the highest concentration of remakes. Remakes aren’t particularly new of course, even the infancy of cinema history features cases such as The Maltese Falcon, which was the third attempt at adapting Dashiell Hammett’s original source novel, and A Star is Born, with no less than five versions. However, as the years have passed and the cult of cinema grown more expansive, we find ourselves in a world where the spread of remakes has become ever more vast…and unfortunately, as it has been stretched further and further, the transparency of the motivation behind them ever more visible, and homage to the halcyon days of the cinema transformed into a seeming production line of rapid fire reassessments.

This troubled line between inspiration and reproduction becomes particularly blurred in the case of direct remakes, most notably in the case of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho…and now joined by Travis Z’s Cabin Fever. While Gus Van Sant’s attempt is far more infamous (let’s face it, when it comes to sacred cows, the cinema of Eli Roth is hardly on the same hallowed pedestal as Alfred Hitchcock’s oeuvre) and radical in its adaptation of the original text, this new Cabin Fever is equally as revealing…if only as an example of the remake culture at its lowest point. In the context which it inevitability habits, it stands as a film that is wholly unoriginal, creatively bankrupt and at its absolute nadir…insulting to the audience.

Cabin Fever is…well…have you seen the original? It’s that. But for the sake of those who haven’t encountered Cabin Fever previously, the film focuses on a group of teenagers who journey to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of isolated debauchery. However, they find their frolics suddenly interrupted by the outbreak of a virulent infection, one that causes the victim to slowly begin to rot to death. As fear of infection spreads, fear and self-preservation become just as deadly within the group, with loyalties tested and horror spilling out of control.

Travis Z’s film is based upon Eli Roth’s exact screenplay for his original film, even down to the character dialogue. In taking this direction, you would have to imagine there was an agenda of commentary, or at least some attempt to engage with the relationship between original text and new vision. In the process, the filmmakers confront head on one of the most difficult aspects of remakes themselves…delivering an experience that pays referenced, but feels fresh and distinctive. The resulting film fails in this regard…yet it isn’t so much that it fails, but how it fails that makes it such an insulting work. Cabin Fever is an appalling act of artificiality, delivered sluggishly and with, in my opinion, a sense of arrogance. The film plays directly down the middle of generic expectation, fulfilling all the clichés with the added frustration of playing out the direct beats of the original film. The performances are equally frustrating, grating and dated in their frat-ish excess and, particularly, their wild personality shifts when the real crisis strikes them, which highlights more than anything just how poorly the original’s characters have devolved in the years since. The most iconic gore moment of the original is played in precisely the same manner, when the scope to push it further or completely alter it to provide a sense of defied expectation was there just waiting to be exploited.

The film is so painfully and symbiotically attached to the original that the loose attempts to diverge from certain ideas feels like the film is attempting to rip itself from its Siamese twin in the shape of the original…a foolish act that only serves to scar both works. The biggest alterations come in the shape of altering the gender of Deputy Winston from male to female, a move that could have opened space to deal with gender politics and the role of women in power within the horror genre, but is ultimately a surface alteration, and at worst, a joke. You could argue it was a camp twist…if it wasn’t so shamelessly and hideously bereft of idea and, crucially, humour.
The filmmakers also add reference to the presence of social media as an active element in the lives of these teens, an addition which poses a question over the reliance of this generation of youth has on technology as a means of social communication and self-expression. However, rather than open up a space for discourse, the weak focus upon it smacks of desperation rather than a genuine comment of modern culture, one that could have added a much needed breath of creative clarity to allow those versed in the original the chance to pull themselves out of the smog of tired familiarity and frustratingly passive repetition. This is failure to articulate or define an identity reinforced by the proximity of the film to its original. There are only fourteen years between the original and this remake. Eli Roth’s original blazed brightly when it appeared in 2002, and, in my opinion, stands as his most satisfying work, crammed with awareness and an almost roguish independent spirit. The remake is so hopelessly devoid of any of those charms that not only does it damage its own identity, but dates and marks the original by showing exactly how elements of Roth’s film feel juvenile, uncoordinated and schlocky out of the context of its time.

Perhaps the saddest thing about the whole affair is the fact that, in truth, Cabin Fever has some elements of quality, in particular reference to the gore effects on display, which have some truly startling moments, particular as the first female victim of the group becomes ever more ravaged by the plague that has afflicted her, captured with make-up effects with an oozing sense of reality that truly gives a reality and power to the threat of the virus. If you hadn’t seen the original, you’d probably be left thinking this film is a bit of a mess but far from the very worst the genre has to offer, with some great visceral moments punctuating it. However, the ham fisted nature of the banal re-treading makes it so devoid of energy, almost resigned in its passivity, that even if the comparison to the original wasn’t so pervasive and coded into the very DNA of the film, it would feel sluggish and disjointed, undermining the grotesque palette on display. At least the aforementioned Psycho remake functioned as a work of reflexive idea, looking at the iconic status of cinema and commending on how the process of repartition and literal homage works as an almost destructive form of modern art, and also a sanctification of the original work and its aura. In Cabin Fever, there is no thought…no new idea, no attempt to look at what the very process of their absolute remaking says about both the original and this new entity. Quite simply, this film is a void in every sense of the word.

Ultimately, Cabin Fever truly serves no discernible reason for existence, nor makes a defence to be examined, experienced or enjoyed on any level. You could argue this is an attempt to offer an altered image for a new generation, but in reality, even if that was its treaty, it fails phenomenally all the same as a below average horror experience. In the process, this achingly uninspired act of regurgitation has found a singular purpose for existence in my eyes: to be the most superfluous and redundant cinematic experience I have ever witnessed.

Movie Review: Cabin Fever
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk