Starring Gage Golightly, Matthew Daddario, Nadine Crocker, Dustin Ingram, Samuel Davis
Directed by Travis Zariwny
Talk about a confusing situation. Heading into Travis Zariwny’s remake of Eli Roth’s breakout gorefest, Cabin Fever, there were a few key elements targeted for supreme study. First, I wanted to really get a feel for the characters and appropriately identify them. Who is the hero, who is comedian, and who is the unfortunate sensible individual who understands that when you step into a pit of shit, it’s tough to climb your way out of it? Second, I wanted to identify parallels between these new characters and the characters that Roth created. Third, I wanted to directly compare the gore of each picture. Roth’s film was horrendously disgusting – could Zariwny’s picture live up to, or even exceed, expectations of the graphic disgustingness delivered by Roth? And finally, I had to know if Roth’s film could be improved upon in any way whatsoever. A stronger script perhaps, or pitch-perfect performances maybe. Hell, maybe one of these young thespians could turn in an Oscar-worthy (not likely, obviously) performance.
Well, it’s time to break things down and tackle each of those issues. Forget a thorough breakdown of the plot because the truth is we all know that a group of 20-somethings is headed for an isolated cabin where they consume contaminated water, only to be immediately affected by a flesh-eating bacteria that ensures certain death. Nothing has changed in regard to the key plot so we won’t delve too deep into that one.
Now, let’s get to the bullets released in the opening paragraphs.
Zariwny lines up a handful of attractive youngsters to torture. The problem is that very few sport character traits that separate them from one another. In Roth’s film Ryder Strong’s character, Paul, gradually emerged as the headstrong leader of the group. He wasn’t a physically imposing individual, but he seemed to hold command and influence over his counterparts. There is no one in this ensemble that manages such a feat (Samuel Davis’ Paul makes an attempt) in such convincing fashion. And in Roth’s film we saw James DeBello’s character, Bert, assert himself as the clown of the group, delivering some golden lines before all hell broke loose. In the remake Dustin Ingram plays Bert, and there isn’t a hint of a similar personality to the Bert of 2002, although Ingram does summon some sympathy from time to time. Ultimately, this Bert just blends into the mix, another terrified kid concerned with his well-being.
Perhaps the greatest character discrepancy between films falls on the shoulders of the local deputy. Remember that in Roth’s picture Giuseppe Andrews’ depiction of Deputy Winston was absolutely brilliant. He was wildly quirky, lacked any hint of tact, and made all the wrong calls, despite the fact that he seemed to be two steps ahead of everyone in a very discreet and shady manner. Deputy Winston in Zariwny’s film is played by the attractive Louise Linton, who comes off as a bit… well, off, but she doesn’t bring half the humor or unorthodox charm that Giuseppe Andrews managed. As a whole, this cast is serviceable, but not necessarily superior to the performers we met in Roth’s picture.
As for character connections between both films, there are a few, but the guidelines become blurred on more than one occasion. The names are the same and the desperation experienced by both groups feels like a mirrored response, but that’s just about where it all ends. And a part of the reasoning for that is the remake’s tone. Roth’s film was loaded with over-the-top humor and extremely far-fetched character decisions; whereas, the remake is a far more serious, straightforward horror film. And, to the credit of Travis Zariwny, that approach works surprisingly well. This film is significantly more disconcerting than Roth’s, and it’s not only quite noticeable; it’s appreciated.
As for the gore, Roth’s film gets the nod. The moment in which we see flesh peel from a leg while shaving… good lord, that’s just a nauseating moment, and we understand that Roth is willing to push the envelope like few ever have. And although we see that very same scene in the remake, it looks and feels a bit tamer. It doesn’t stick with you the way Roth’s sequence did. Having said all that, it’s definitely important to note that this rendition of Cabin Fever is indeed very gory.
There’s nothing pleasing about a flesh-eating bacteria, and it sure as hell isn’t going to lead to domestic aesthetics. No, Zariwny does a good job of keeping the blood, guts, and flesh oozing in the eyes of the viewer; and the faint of heart won’t take too kindly to the graphic imagery. So, kudos, Travis! You did a pretty good job of living up to the grotesqueries of the original.
Here’s the thing about Cabin Fever 2016: It’s going to make for a more entertaining viewing experience if you avoid tossing Roth’s original in the disc player in advance. You don’t want to compare these two films because despite how similar they are (this is damn near a shot-for-shot remake), the atmosphere and tone of the pictures are entirely different, and that can easily sway your opinion of the remake before you’ve even given it a try. Roth set out to leave the stomach rolling and the laughter edging your half-digested food up your esophagus. Zariwny sets out to disgust the audience while terrifying them simultaneously. Believe it or not, these are two very different films.
Personally, I’ll take Travis’ approach to Cabin Fever over Roth’s. Illuminated differences aside, Travis’ film feels more polished. The transitions are smoother, and the cinematography is great. The scenic shots – the aerials in particular – look absolutely amazing. And it must be said that the pacing of the remake feels far swifter than Roth’s picture. This one starts on a mellow note but quickly begins building tension, and by the time this horrific bacteria begins to turn our ensemble into “Walking Dead” extras, the ball is rolling at full speed, never once letting up.
Much to my own surprise, Cabin Fever 2016 is a superior effort to Cabin Fever 2002.