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IN SHORT: Average horror ideas murdered in the edit room. [Rated R. 94 minutes]
Our strongest recommendation is that you view Cabin Fever in a very crowded theater or, if you grab it long after the fact, in a living room packed with your friends. One of the great problems of seeing scary movies in fairly empty screening rooms is that pro critics are notorious for keeping close mouthed. Without that one audience member to start the shrieking, even the best horrorflick will go down in flames. We get to rely on years of reality in gauging how well a movie like Cabin Fever will work outside of the rarified confines of our workplace.
Put simply, once upon a long time ago we saw Blair Witch Project in a room packed with critics all of whom had bought the hype and were desperate to be scared silly. When all was done, hype won out. By that measure, Cabin Fever is a much better scare than Blair Witch Project, although it is an equal, story-wise, to the superior bomb that was Blair Witch Project 2. So much for the past.
Five collegiate kids rent a cabin in the woods of North Carolina for a week. Jeff (Joey Kern) and Marcy,(Cerina Vincent) are already doing the nasty. Paul (Rider Strong) and Karen (Jordan Ladd) are doing the dance the presages that kind of coupling. Bert (James DeBello) is the resident ass. He drinks and smokes and steals from the local General Store. He can't wait to take a rifle out and start blowing woodchucks and squirrels to smithereens.
It isn't a squirrel that he shoots, though. It is a hermit (Arie Verveen) who is, to make this all nice and simple, Victim One of some kind of flesh eating virus -- there are such things. Really! -- that has crossed the divide from the animal kingdom (his dog) to human.This virus is a nasty sucker. It starts with blotches on the skin and bleeding and quickly evolves into one nastier fleshing sonofa... well, you know. The makeup effects convey this beautifully so props to Robert Kurtzman and Gregory Nicotero of the K.N.B. EFX Group for their work. Once the hermit crosses paths with the kidlets, they get the scare of their lives and their truck gets coated inside and out by gallons of blood that vomits out of the poor guy. Being kids, of course, they react in a most natural manner which will eventually disable their mode of transportation, not to mention the hermit, who stumbles off to die in a place guaranteed to spread infection rapidly. But that's a story for later in the film.
Being alone in the woods, the kidlets lock up the first of their compadres to show symptoms and desperately try to find a neighbor or a way into town to get medical help. One group does find another, more luxurious vacation house which is abandoned and later occupied -- unless it's a different house -- and here comes the problem with Eli Roth's first work. All the horror elements work fairly well, considering the non-slice 'n' dice nature of the piece (thanks to Mr. Roth for that) but, usually, to get from Point A to Point C you have to go through Point B. Characters, all of whom should have been limited to the cabin or the woods, appear helter skelter in the other house. It's more likely an editing snafu than anything else. Unless, of course, we blinked and missed some linking material. Either way, something happened "wrong enough" for us to noticed and comment about it.
That's too bad, too, because there are some real interesting story twists involving how a close knit circle of friends react when that circle is infected, that we haven't seen before. The performances are believable and the character backgrounds are well thought out and presented via the screenplay. Our only guess as to why it doesn't hang together has already been presented. And that's why we say find a crowded theater or pack your living room. If you get one scream starting the ball rolling you'll probably miss the edit errors.
We will tell you to be on the lookout for how the local townspeople react when they find out about the virus. You won't have to look hard, it plays a major role in the second half of the story and it's a pretty brilliant concept.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Cabin Fever, he would have paid . . .
Dateflick level (and one that would've been equally plausible a buck lower at one of our rent "levels". The extra nudge goes to a work much better than most of the first time stuff we see.) Bring a friend. Find a crowd. even if you're an aficionado and don't buy in, Cabin Fever's production values are consistent enough that you'll have plenty of material to feed any diss you care to toss at the screen. We don't think you'll have to fall that low but that's just us.
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