[Screen It]

(2003) (Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd) (R)

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Horror: A small group of friends tries to avoid contracting a contagious, fleshing eating virus while vacationing in a cabin in the backwoods.
Paul (RIDER STRONG), his longtime friend Karen (JORDAN LADD), another couple, Jeff (JOEY KERN) and Marcy (CERINA VINCENT), along with their boorish friend Bert (JAMES DeBOLLO), have arrived at a cabin in the woods for a week of rest and relaxation.

Little do they know, however, that they're about to come face to face with the horrors of an infectious, flesh eating virus. After a bloody encounter with a stranger infected with it - that draws the attention of Deputy Winston (GIUSEPPE ANDREWS) - various members of the small group start to contract the disease. As their condition progressively worsens, the surviving members do what they can to avoid getting it themselves, all while dealing with some less than welcoming locals.

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
Although most diseases are bad in one way or another, few are as horrific or get as much press attention as those falling into the flesh-eating category. That's not only due to them tapping into our primordial fear of being eaten alive, but also because of the rapid speed in which they usually do their devastating dirty work.

Thus, they definitely make the grade as scary stuff and would naturally seem to be a "good" subject for some sort of horror or thriller film. First time filmmakers writer/director Eli Roth and co-writer Randy Pearlstein certainly seem to think so. Yet, they've opted to forgo the mass panic and/or government involvement found in "Outbreak" and instead made something akin to an old-fashioned zombie-like flick in "Cabin Fever."

An odd and unwarranted recipient of a lot of positive buzz, the film has generated various comments about it reinvigorating the horror genre and, well, simply being so gosh darn scary. Neither statement could be further from the truth, as the word on the street should be about how derivative (albeit purposefully), boring and bad it really is.

Mysteriously avoiding the straight to video fate that usually befalls pictures of this low-grade caliber, the film reportedly stems from Roth's personal encounter with such a flesh-eating virus. While that's possibly a bit of conjecture and/or good promotional fodder for the press kit and interviews, there's no doubt that the filmmakers have studied up on their horror films.

That's because most of the film is nothing but a series of references and homage to previous releases ranging from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" to "Night of the Living Dead" and a whole host of others. Yet, rather than being funny as in the "Scream" films or coming off as hip and cool in a referential way as is the case in Quentin Tarantino's efforts, they simply exist here, sure to please only diehard horror fans.

For better or worse, the film also avoids the zombie trappings it so readily appears to become mired in (and thus avoids direct comparisons to the far better "28 Days Later"). Instead, it simply introduces the infected as a catalyst for friends to turn on each other in fear of being contaminated (possibly a not so subtle reference to reactions to AIDS and other such real-life problems).

Yet, rather than being something of a horror-based sociological and/or philosophical examination of instinctual vs. civilized behavior, the film simply boils down to being an imitative and predictable bloodbath that's more interested in referencing and playing off elements from those older films than standing on its own. While it might gross out the easily queasy, it's not much even from that angle.

Hoping to spice up the proceedings, the filmmakers also throw in some "Deliverance" style, inbred people who seem to have wandered over from the set of the similarly themed "Wrong Turn" after watching too many David Lynch films. They do nothing for the effort beyond making it worse than it already is.

Then there's a near feral kid (with a bad wig) with a penchant for biting and yelling "Pancakes!" who, for no apparent reason other than the filmmakers apparently thinking it would look cool, suddenly goes into full-bore martial arts action, naturally in glorious slow motion.

The problem - beyond the bad acting (some of it's quite awful, purposeful or not), the lame script and the ham-fisted direction - is that the effort simply isn't scary. It can be as referential and gross as it wants to be, but if the scares are lacking, the film has failed.

Aside from the repeatedly botched directorial efforts of inducing thrills and chills, the biggest fault is that we don't care about the characters. I realize they're drawn to emulate the same sort of young people who've populated similarly themed past films. Nevertheless, and as has been the case with those previous efforts, the fact that we don't like them means we don't care. And if we don't care, the chances of us getting caught up in the proceedings are next to nil.

The likes of Rider Strong ("Buck Naked Arson," TV's "Boy Meets World"), Jordan Ladd ("Never "Been Kissed," "The Specials"), Joey Kern ("Grind," "Super Troopers"), Cerina Vincent ("Not Another Teen Movie," "Fear Runs Silent") and James DeBollo ("Detroit Rock City," "Swimfan") don't get any help from their weakly written parts, resulting in performances that range from mediocre to poor. They shine, however, compared to Giuseppe Andrews ("American History X," "Pleasantville") in the part of the local deputy that's so bad you have to see it to believe it.

Some will say the same - albeit in an endorsement - about the film and how scary it is. Don't believe the hype, as the only frightening thing about this effort is how it received a nationwide theatrical release rather than an instant burial in the straight to video market. "Cabin Fever" rates as a 1 out of 10.

Reviewed August 15, 2003 / Posted September 12, 2003

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