We are going full ‘cabin fever’ here at cottagemixtape.com with our new Rock /Disco DJ mix, Cabin Fever, and since we do the occasional outdoor movie review, it only seems ‘natural’ to look at the movie with the same namesake, 2002’s Cabin Fever. Not like there is any correlation, mind you. In fact, for as many outdoor-themed horror movies I have seen, I have never seen Cabin Fever… that is until now. So, here goes a fresh 2020 take, on the movie 20 years later, Cabin Fever.
Cabin Fever, directed by Eli Roth (Inglorious Bastards, Grindhouse), was Eli Roth first major film directorial debut, after years of developing the script and trying to get it funded. Although the film is 20 years old there are eerily relevant themes of deadly viruses, racial tension and urban vs rural society. As such, it is like a little microcosm of America and maybe the world at large during these COVID times.
In Cabin Fever, five friends played by Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, Cerina Vincent, Joey Kern and James DeBello as Bert, the jocky fifth-wheel, rent a cabin in the woods for a week to celebrate their recent college graduation. After they brush shoulders with the racist small-town locals at the local store, they proceed to the cabin for a fun-filled week of adventures: tanning on the dock by the lake all day, telling scary stories by the fire at night and pancakes, pancakes, pancakes!
However, all is not quite right and I don’t mean the fact that the trees looks like they are in fall or early spring and that the friends just graduated. No, I am speaking mostly of the flesh-eating disease that makes it way into their camp.
Without giving away too much, what ensues is your typical Eli Roth movie with a mix of dark humour, splatter and gore. However, I found most of the performances were just average, with the exception for Winston, the young cop played by Giuseppe Andrews. Otherwise, the characters are not particularly memorable or endearing. It is no wonder that these fictions friends are not even given last names, because they lack depth and don’t have a clear agenda. The characters don’t really seem to have any sort of agency, except for getting laid, which definitely puts this movie in the same category of these slasher in the woods-type films (e.g. Friday The 13th), however I don’t think it delivers quite on that level.
“Like a fever, Cabin Fever runs both hot and cold”
However, this doesn’t prevent Cabin Fever from alluding to the aforementioned, Friday The 13th, to classic tales like Little Red Ridinghood (when she is being chased by the dog wearing red); the “is it safe?” from Marathon Man, to the animal costumed flashes of Kubrick’s The Shining. And although it is great to have that referential brevity, and it makes it doesn’t necessarily make it a better film and sometimes comes off like cheap decoration.
The characters are also criticized for not thinking and acting logically (ie. why don’t the friends go for help; why doesn’t the hermit go to his sister instead, etc). Personally, I found it particularly annoying that they never relate their encounters that happen away from the cabin (Spolier alert: when Bert first meets with the Hermit, when Paul meets the neighbour with the shotgun). Although, I cannot justify some of the choices, I think this is not unlike many horror movies of this type. Ultimately, I think this is more of a device to affect viewers. Ultimately, we know what they don’t know and we can see their folly and their poor choices, and this only meant to entice us as the spectator.
Also, it could be said in fearful situations, people act irrationally and that violence itself is irrational. You need to only look at our present, real situation with COVID and how irrationally people are reacting (refusing to wear masks or distance themselves). It is not without irony that in Cabin Fever, Bert, who is the seemingly the dim-witted jock, knows (not only how to fix a totalled vehicle) but that you need to isolate the infected from the group. Furthermore, the small town locals, view the disease as a real threat This! And he knows this pretty much before the internet. Basic stuff.
Furthermore, the when Bert returns to the shop dishevelled, they have already gone into a foregone conlusion that he is dangerous and needs to be stopped, a threat. Would you believe in real life that most people don’t think infectious diseases are perceived threat? I wouldn’t either but here we are.
Subsequently, in Cabin Fever the locals come to kill the infected out-of-towners, whom they see as infected invaders, not unlike the current animosity happening now between small-town and city dwellers hoping to escape the city due to COVID. This ongoing animosity between cottagers and locals was and still is very real problem, at the outbreak of Covid even here in Ontario. People would break lockdown protocol by leaving their city to escape to their cottage properties and “deplete” supplies at local grocery stores. Who is wrong is a little like trying to determine who was “wrong” in this movie.
The water contamination scene at the end is clearly another tribute this time Night Of The Living Dead. In front of the local store, the scene of the crime turns into an unusually bustling street with activity. Presumably, all ‘walks’ of life living in harmony meant to signify the passing of time. As if to say there are two histories: the actual one and a perceived history. It’s an odd sequence, like a dream. That violence is this unheard backdrop to America.
However, the thing that is the least satisfying is the ending. The local store owner as it turns out is not racist but meant the n-bomb “in the way black people mean it”, in jest?! This ending seems kind of disingenuous and dismissive.
Cabin Fever (2002) Soundtrack
At first, I was rather, impressed with the soundtrack with had some deep 70’s cuts, which had me looking up the soundtrack. Songs like the Turtlenecks’ track “Walkin’, Workin’, Lovin’ N Laughin’“. Not many horror soundtracks around this time tend to feature classic rock, folk tunes for a 2000 horror movie. It also, included tracks by David Hess, except these were already featured in Wes Craven’s “Last House On The Left”. Here, again the line between tribute and just lifting gets kind of blurry for me. One song (sure), two tracks (ok), three songs (now its getting weird).
Conclusion – Cabin Fever (2002)
The movie, however, is mildly entertaining. Cabin Fever is interesting in that there is no definitive monster. It is a pandemic movie placed in the woods, which is a bit different, unusual and interesting. The monster here us really human indifference and worse outright hatred, hostility and distrust.
Eli Roth tries to mix sex with splatter to shock but in some cases its shockingly bad. However, I think he does sometimes get the psychology of the infected right. Supposedly, the infection angle came from a real life experience Eli Roth had with a skin infection. And that intimacy when she is shaving, I think he gets it right. Also, I agree it takes some heart to star in your own movie with a soul patch (something which back then in 2002 was probably less funny).
Cabin Fever is a lot of blood, a little heart and not a lot brains and that may be your expectation, in which case you may get some entertainment value out of it. If your intentions are to watch a mildly entertaining horror movie in the woods, with gross parts you could do worse. But like a fever, Cabin Fever runs both hot and cold.
Length: 1h 33m
Rated: R (violence, sexuality)
Best time to watch: Either mid-day or night. A lot of action happens during the day and night, so kind of works either way. But its kind of gross, so whenever you can stomach it.
Listen To The Mix with the same name, CABIN FEVER !… but has little to do with the movie.