AUGUST 4, 2014
I don't know why Image/RLJ is putting Cabin Fever: Patient Zero into theaters (or at least, A theater) beyond, I guess, the ability to say it was a theatrical release when selling it elsewhere or marketing to someone. Maybe it was a contractual thing? It's certainly not because of the quality - it's technically proficient and boasts some pretty terrific FX courtesy of Vincent Guastini, but the script is laughably bad and the concept flimsy; at times it manages to make the average DTV movie look good. So if you absolutely must see this thing, watch it on VOD or Blu-ray where it belongs - don't shell out $12.50 like I did, with the minor optimism that it was getting this shot because it deserved it.
I mean, it certainly couldn't be the name brand alone that got it there, right? Eli Roth's original was over a decade ago, and it wasn't exactly a trend-setter - his next film, Hostel, was the one that helped launch a wave of similar films; I don't recall being inundated with "Cabin Fever ripoffs". And the first sequel was fun but released without much fanfare due to the well publicized production issues (with director Ti West wanting his name off the film, for starters), making it hard for me to believe that the words "Cabin Fever" have the same drawing power as, say, "Hellraiser" (another series that curiously got back its (barely) theatrical mojo with its last installment). And it doesn't seem like a very lucrative gamble - there were 4 others in the screening with me (the one show this theater - the only one in Los Angeles showing it - offers per day), and even less over the weekend when my friend Joe went - he said besides him and his friend, the only other person in the theater was incredulous that they watched it, only to reveal he was the father of one the actors which is why he "had" to sit through it! Hah!
Furthermore, if it's the name brand they're banking on, why the hell did they make a movie that barely feels like a Cabin Fever movie? It's definitely the same flesh-eating virus, so this doesn't appear to be a case of someone slapping a franchise name on an unrelated movie like the Italians used to do. The first two may have had different sensibilities and influences, but they were both Troma-ish with their gleeful application of the humor and gore blend, keeping actual scares to a minimum in favor of gooey fun. Not the case here; beyond a somewhat amusing catfight between virus-stricken ladies that are literally tearing each other apart (sadly shot in the dark so you can barely appreciate the carnage), there's nothing really fun about the movie at all. Considering that the plot is about a bachelor party gone horribly wrong*, it's insane to think that the movie never really has any of the debauchery that the other films reveled in - even the pisspoor (and way too obvious) attempt to match the "fingerbang misfire" scene from the original lacks any perverse joy. You're just wondering when they'll get to the obvious reveal (one of our heroes goes down on his girlfriend, who already shows signs of infection. Guess what happens when she climaxes?), and probably even let down that they only offer a shot of his face instead of the, er, infected area (come on, you know Eli woulda had 3 cameras on that thing!).
And those are the only highlights! The rest is pretty tame and not particularly interesting or exciting. The subtitle refers to Sean Astin's character, whose family has been ravaged by the disease (off-screen, before the movie began) and seems to be immune, which prompts a couple of scientists (including one that has her cleavage exposed at all times, another thing that SHOULD be exploitative fun but just seems like a jackass producer making a suggestion no one questioned) to quarantine him and run tests to see if his blood can provide a cure. Meanwhile, our hero is being taken to his bachelor party by his brother, his best friend, and a female childhood pal who is with his brother but clearly has her sights set on him. The party is nothing more than sitting on a virgin beach and drinking beers/smoking weed, which is not only kind of lame in conception but also lame for a horror movie about a flesh eating virus - there are actually fewer people here than in the first film (to say nothing of the well-populated sequel). There is a brief hope that they will just bring the virus to the wedding and let havoc be wreaked, but nope - the bride and everyone else at the wedding is written out almost as soon as they are introduced. I guess at one point this was pitched as "Hangover meets Cabin Fever!" but somewhere along the line any notion of fun or even all out chaos was dropped. I'm sure they didn't have a blank check, but even if they were forced to limit how many infected victims we see, they didn't have to keep what was left from being fun.
Here's what they DID keep (assuming there ever WAS any idea of doing more, of course): our heroes (brothers) fighting over a girl, generic drama about the hero abandoning his best friend/business partner to work for his father-in-law (the specifics of either job are never made clear), a convoluted "twist" about how the virus has been spread, an endless sequence where two of our heroes walk through dimly lit tunnels and encounter what appear to be zombies, and even an honest-to-God "old gypsy woman forewarns of danger" scene. The latter is a particular eye-roller, it's the equivalent of smashing a fruit cart in an action movie car chase, or running to the airport in a rom-com - at this point it's practically passe to even make fun of such things, let alone try to do it straight. Jake Wade Wall has never written a good movie (his best is the 2007 Hitcher, which was so close to the original they had to list Eric Red - who had NOTHING TO DO WITH IT - as a co-writer instead of the usual "based on" credit you'd see in a remake), but a lot of this is terrible even by his standards.
Another issue is that there's no real reason for keeping the two storylines separate, as there's no twist to the moment where they finally converge. I spent a good chunk of the movie assuming there was some Saw II style scenario where we were seeing one present timeline and another that occurred days or even weeks before, but no - when the bachelor party guys stumble across Astin and the scientists it's clear that their respective events have been occurring more or less simultaneously. So why are they kept apart for as long as they are? When the guys are heading to the island they spot the building on the opposite side from their destination beach, and it's quite clear that it's the medical facility, but yet the movie doesn't actually "reveal" that for another 45 minutes. Part of the problem with both storylines is that they're way too underpopulated, with four characters each; at least if they were combined earlier (there's only like 20-25 minutes left when they meet up) there could be some additional tension as alliances are created or shattered. It might have also allowed them to reveal their stupid twist in a less clunky way (without spoiling it, as the credits roll we get a bunch of flashbacks poorly explaining how ____ was able to manipulate the others, though WHY this person is doing it is still unclear).
All of the above is more disappointing when you consider that everything that isn't the script actually ain't all that bad. The acting is fine, director Kaare Andrews stages some solid sequences (particularly the opening, slo-mo bit with Astin reacting to his dead family), the score has a touch of Ravenous to it (awesome!), and again, Guastini's FX are terrific. The underlit photography aside, there's nothing technically wrong with the movie (great titles, too), but it's all in service of a script that is convoluted for no reason and focuses on horribly vague characters, not to mention not very likable ones. Most of the characters in the original were assholes too, but the sense of humor made it work - we liked seeing them get what was coming to them, when applicable. These guys are just jerks, but the serious tone makes me think I'm supposed to be a bit concerned for their well-being. Even when it DOES get a bit exploitative, like the catfight, it doesn't feel like anyone's heart is really in it.
So we have a wholly unrelated sequel (CF2 had a few returning characters, if you recall - this doesn't even take place in the same country) with a tone that is a complete 180 from the others, making me wonder who exactly this movie is for. Won't CF fans be annoyed at the lack of humor, not to mention weirdness? Where's this movie's "Pancakes!"? Is it a prequel to the others, since the virus appears to be new? If so, why set it so far away? I know there's a fourth film (seemingly with a different creative team; Wall is not writing, thankfully), so maybe that will bridge them together more successfully, but will anyone show up to find out? I can't imagine, 12 years after the first film and 4-5 after the not-loved 2nd one, that anyone will be salivating over another entry after this one. Not every horror fan shares my OCD obsession with sticking with franchises until they are completely done (if I can stick around through all 11 Puppet Masters when I've only liked 2 of them, I can certainly get to a 4th Cabin Fever). Horror fans may be more forgiving than with other genres, but even we have our limits.
What say you?
*Also the plot of Hostel III. I guess this is just what you do when making threequels to Eli Roth movies. Least we know if Thanksgiving ever gets made they have a story to end the trilogy!