Say what you will about Eli Roth nowadays, 2002’s Cabin Fever was a breath of fresh air for the horror scene. Being plagued by malaise after the wave of Scream knockoffs, the genre needed something to help break it out of its slump. Roth was more than happy to oblige with this darkly funny and delightfully gory cult flick. So of course, after a lame direct-to-video sequel and an equally-lame prequel, we get a remake that uses the same script as the original. You already know how this is going to turn out.
A group of five friends venture out to a remote Oregon cabin for a week-long getaway. At first, Karen (Gage Golightly), Jeff (Matthew Daddario), Marcy (Nadine Crocker), Bert (Dustin Ingram), and Paul (Samuel Davis) spend their time drinking, laughing and resisting the urge to use their phones. However, the fun time grinds to a halt when Henry (Randy Schulman) shows up at the cabin with a mysterious illness that’s eating away at his flesh. The group refuse to help Henry, and after he tries to steal their car, sets the guy on fire. Unfortunately, the group’s problems have just begun, as the virus that had infected Henry has begun to infect them.
Let’s get this out of the way at the start: Those who deem Roth’s original to be a sacred cow are not going to like this. Those who deem remakes to be corporate shilling and soulless will not like this. Myself? It differs from film to film. I’d like to at least have an open mind and see just what the redux does that the original didn’t do (and vice versa). That said, let’s move on.
Despite using the same script by Roth and Randy Pearlstein, new director Travis Zariwny (styled as Travis Z, for reasons unknown) does try to inject new things into the film, as well as “alter” some of the existing material. For starters, the film gets a boost in the cinematography department by Gavin Kelly, who makes the film look far more professional than the low-budget origins of the original. Whereas the 2002 cabin looked to be far more homely, the 2016 cabin now appears as a vacation cottage with more green on the ground to go along with it. And, in the sake of it being more modern (or annoyingly catering), we have references to Facebook posting, GTA V and Minecraft.
One of the strengths of the original film was its amiable cast, lead by Rider Strong. This time, we aren’t afforded the privilege, as Zariwny has a group of unknowns who have had their characters “polished”. As a result, the film loses much of the dark humour found in the original, as the characters essentially “play it safe” without courting controversial topics. No “What’s the rifle for?” moments. That said, they’re all pretty unlikable and not given much depth. Ingram still plays Bert as a goofball asshole, Daddario and Davis are almost the same character as Jeff and Paul, Golightly spends her time as Karen uploading insipid garbage to Facebook, and Crocker doesn’t get to do much more as Marcy. Fan favourite Justin from the original (played by Roth) is now an annoying hipster dick (redundant, I know) played by Tim Zajaros, who doesn’t have the same presence as Roth.
So, the characters are shells of their originals, and the humour is gone. But at least we get those memorable shots of Paul’s bloody hand and Marcey’s skin-crawling shaving sequence, right? Well, yeah. But, thanks to the same script as the original, it’s not going to be a surprise or shock when those moments happen. And like its “safe” characters, Cabin Fever 2016 also avoids going into the daring territory of the original. It doesn’t give the audience the intensity you would hope that it would improve upon the 2002 original. It just feels too clean-cut and predictable. One of the things that a remake should do is tell something new that wasn’t explored enough or touched upon by the original. In other words, give the remake a reason to exist. Alex Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes is a perfect example of this. Cabin Fever 2016 is more or less another shot-for-shot remake that doesn’t do any of that.
Needless to say, this remake of Cabin Fever was unnecessary as it was entertaining. It’s not bad in the sense that it’s horribly acted or directed. It just has no soul or individuality to it. Sure, there’s more polish in the presentation and in the editing, but that neuters the charms of what made the original so great. You don’t care about the characters, you know what’s inevitably going to happen, and really, there’s not much point in watching this one when the original still very much holds up today. Those unfamiliar with the original will probably get more out of this one than fans of the original, but would also be doing themselves a disservice.