Directed Eli Roth
Screenplay Eli Roth & Randy Pearlstein
Based on a story by Eli Roth
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the woods along comes Cabin Fever, a fun throwback to horror films of the late '70s and '80s. The creative team is obviously made up of fans of this genre because they present us with all the elements we loved about those previous films: blood and gore, brief sexual situations, and weird hillbillies.
We can tell there's going to be trouble once the lights go down. The opening credits do a masterful job of setting the creepy tone that is soon to follow. As they roll by, the screen progressively becomes a darker and darker reddish brown while the soundtrack offers up flies buzzing around, growing both in quantity and volume. The film starts out with a man in the woods trying to wake a sleeping dog only to find it to be a dead, rotting corpse. As he rolls the body over, fluids spray out onto him.
We cut to our fateful quintet as they start summer vacation with an excursion into the woods. On the way out to their cabin they stop at a general store to pick up supplies, mainly beer. On the porch swing in front of the store is a weird-looking feral child whose mullet guarantees him a place in the pantheon of bad movie hair alongside Ernie McKracken from Kingpin and Randall from About Schmidt. Paul, the lead character, tries to say hello but the kid bites him.
Ignoring this warning from Fate and skipping the potentially needed tetanus and rabies shots, the group ventures onward to the cabin. Once there they split up to partake in youthful high jinks. One couple has sex. The female partaking is the very attractive Cerina Vincent who is sure to have many altars devoted to her worship in the form of Internet web pages. Her followers will be the many fanboys out there appreciative for the free peeks at her tan, naked body. Another couple swims and playfully flirts, which is a lot closer to what the aforementioned fanboys will be able to identify with when it comes to being alone with a woman. And lastly, Bert, the dimwitted fifth wheel, goes out hunting squirrels; however, what he finds instead is the man from the opening sequence looking very ill. Instead of trying to help the man, Bert, in deference to both his intelligence and sobriety, shoots the man, causing him to fall into a ditch.
While the kids party in the cabin, Bert's victim shows up looking worse than before as the disease has continued to ravage him. There's talk of how to get help among the group, but before anything can be decided, Bert slams the door in his face, scared by both the disease and the consequences of shooting the man earlier. Left alone outside, the man tries to take their car, but the gang rushes out to stop him. All are involved in his beating and eventually he flees into the woods after being set on fire.
The kids have now unwittingly set themselves up for trouble. The disease works its way into the house in a very believable way. As the kids get sick, they fight among themselves and the group comes apart, figuratively and literally. Not only do they have virus giving them trouble, they have to deal with each other, a crazed dog, the police and of course, the hillbillies. I don't want to reveal anymore of the plot, but the film works its way to a logical and satisfying conclusion. And there's even a perfect set up at the end for Cabin Fever 2.
I enjoyed this movie. I felt that it was smart and wasn't solely a bunch of gory scenes, although there is a bathtub scene that chooses gruesome over logical. There are some well-written twists and turns in the story that are natural outcomes of events and not heavy-handed plot manipulations. The writers created good suspense by having the audience in on what's happening before the characters figure things out. The make up had a realistic look to it as it showed the progression of the virus. The cinematography vividly captured the fall colors of North Carolina. The crew gets great production values on low budget.
I do have some negative comments. I wish the characters had been a little more fleshed out, no pun intended. I really don't know anything about who these people are other than victims of the virus, so I don't care if anything happens to them. The bathtub scene I mentioned earlier, although it was gruesome and had me squirming, isn't believable where it happens in the story. It felt forced. I also would have liked some big laughs. Things were amusing but not laugh-out-loud funny.
Don't disregard Cabin Fever because it looks like just another "kids stuck in the woods" horror movie. I admit this caused me some hesitation, but the film offers a different take on the situation in an intelligent and interesting way. Bring a group and you'll have a fun time. I think the best time to see this would be a midnight screening. It is too bad drive-ins have vanished because this would have been a great movie to watch while holding onto someone through half-fogged windows.