Eli Roth and Alfred Hitchcock. There’s a comparison you probably were never expecting to read, but there is now something those two have in common. Both of them now have had a very superfluous, almost shot-for-shot remake made of one of their most notable horror films. Whereas, though, 1998’s Psycho remake had no input from the Master of Suspense himself, Cabin Fever 2016 was executive produced by Roth, using the original script from his 2002 feature debut. Of course, there’s also the fact that Cabin Fever was absolutely nowhere near a classic of the genre, so maybe it could benefit from a remake, something that trims the fat off the original, and make the story work far better. Yeah, that’s not what happens here…
Five college friends are spending the weekend at a remote woodland cabin, for some time off the grid, just them, the wilderness, and a lot of beers. However, they encounter while there a local suffering from a horrific, flesh-eating disease, and react… poorly to the situation. Temporarily left cut off from the outside world by the confrontation, they are forced to consider whether they contact the authorities, and how to justify what happened to themselves. But soon they find that the Cabin has become infested with the virus too and they themselves are the victims of it, their own paranoia and a whole environment seemingly out to get them.
As mentioned, the original Cabin Fever was far from any sort of horror masterpiece, and this is no better. In fact, in many ways, it’s far worse. It keeps a lot of the sins of the original, including a far too long set-up for the main horrors to begin, protagonists it’s hard to sympathise with and a whole stack of clichés/too overt homages. What’s notable is that it actually loses quite a few funny lines from the first incarnation, which makes one suspect that some of that one’s better moments were improvised. One big change is a removal of a major gag that was hardly politically correct, but did sort of a work as a subversion of quite a few stereotypes. The only main additions to the script are a few cosmetic tweaks here and there, like one character having had their gender changed (which makes their identical dialogue feel very strange). There’s also now references to the internet and mobiles, which tie in to a different ending, not nearly as haunting as the original’s final scene, and which just plain makes no sense. It may seem unfair to constantly compare the two versions, but in a remake this exact, it absolutely invites the comparison.
In terms of production level, things don’t improve either. Director Travis Z (yes, really, that’s how he’s credited) never really rises to a level far beyond ‘point the camera in the right direction and film’. There are quite a few key scenes that are done very sloppily, such as one shot that should be a big reveal not done properly, so that there can be a new jump scare later (which again makes no sense).
There’s no atmosphere or style to proceedings at all; at one point someone says a house looks creepy when it’s shot in mid-afternoon sun and looks very nice and inviting. Even the titular cabin, while it’s good that it’s no longer the blatant Evil Dead homage from the first, is nowhere near as foreboding and stylish a location. Say what you will about Eli Roth’s work, but at least he can make a genuinely stylish looking film; in the 2002 film, you buy it immediately that a neglected place like that can breed a virus of this sort. He also has a better sense of tone; with the first film, he gave a lot of characters little foibles that elevated them from stock stereotypes. Travis Z just has everyone as pretty much straight cardboard cut-outs all the way through. The locals, for example, here aren’t normal folks who react with their worst impulses, in this version they are full on ‘hicks’ pretty much ready to kill all the city kids before the virus even hits. Where the direction falls flat the worst though is the humour; there’s very little wit, giving us no relief from the grim nastiness on display, and what little laughs exist are placed very badly. There’s a lot in here that’s very uncomfortable, but not in the right way; it doesn’t feel right that a character having an assault rifle should be made a joke given current events in the States.
Even moving away from comparisons from the original, this just plain doesn’t work as a horror in its own right. None of the performances from the cast are anything to write home about, the whole thing feels cheap, from the lighting to the poor sound mix, and it’s just plain not scary. Even the gore effects aren’t anything to get excited about, they look mostly like they were put together with raspberry conserve and slices of ham. It’s hard to say for whom this film is made. A casual horror audience won’t get much out of this, fans of the original will hate it, those that didn’t like the original definitely won’t be converted, it’s the worst of all worlds.
This is one very bewildering production, it barely has a reason to exist. The 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake mainly existed due to a copyright issue with the original, but that still put in real effort and did something different and interesting with the story, updating it well. Whatever the reason this was made, they didn’t make nearly as much effort, unless the whole goal was to make us appreciate the original more, in which case mission accomplished.