The longer that remakes remain a profit center for motion picture companies, the shorter the time between an original film and its remake gets. A lot of horror fans looked on with bemusement when a remake of Cabin Fever was announced because the original version isn’t even 15 years old yet and it had a sequel as late as 2014. However, profitable assets must be exploited and that brings us to the 2016 reboot of Cabin Fever. The results show how a remake can closely follow the original template and still miss the mark for other reasons.
The Cabin Fever remake uses the same Eli Roth/Randy Pearlman script from the 2002 version. There are series of minor tweaks throughout but the premise is identical: a group of college-age yahoos (Matthew Daddario, Gage Golightly, Randy Schulman, Nadine Crocker and Samuel Davis) head off to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of debauchery. They quickly discover the locals are secretive and weird – and there’s also a contagious, flesh-rotting disease running amok in this deceptively peaceful locale. They’re soon struggling to find a way out as the nasty disease corners them and starts picking away at their ranks.
This version of Cabin Fever is frequently being compared to the Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho but it’s actually closer to the 2006 remake of The Omen, which also used the original film’s script with some updated references and minor changes. There are some different bits of dialogue, a few new or modified death scenes, etc. The most unusual change is the film’s comic relief deputy being changed from a man to a woman (Louise Linton). There are a few surprises in how you get to where you’re going – but there’s no change in where you’re going.
However, the biggest alteration with Cabin Fever is a tonal one: director Travis Zariwny throws out the overtly satirical tone of the original and tries to play the carnage and deaths for dramatic impact while still retaining some of the humor. This choice doesn’t work for multiple reasons. The first is that the characterizations make no sense in a pseudo-dramatic context: Zariwny tries to have it both ways by having them be comedic in some scenes and dramatic in others but they fare poorly without consistent humor to make their excesses tolerable. The fact that the rural characters are all played like comic grotesques adds another discordant note to the characterization issue.
Zariwny’s direction is similarly inconsistent: Gavin Kelly’s cinematography gives the visuals a modern slickness but the tone is all over the map and the attempts at serious drama in the third act fall flat, especially with an overbearing musical score by Kevin Riepl shrieking in your ears at every would-be dramatic peak. It doesn’t help that Zariwny gets weak-to-awful performances out of everyone on screen (the townies are particularly terrible) and has trouble maintaining a solid pace.
In short, Cabin Fever shows a danger inherent to modern remakes: it’s not willing to make the large-scale changes that would give it a new creative life and compounds the error by making a series of ill-advised small changes that make its template less effective. The fact that it feels way too early for this particular remake is a small issue in comparison.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory picked up this IFC Midnight release for blu-ray. The transfer does well by the film’s variety of landscapes, handling lush forest exteriors and dark nighttime interiors with equal levels of color and clarity. The 5.1 lossless stereo soundtrack has plenty of speaker activity and depth, particularly in how it handles the musical score. Extras consist of a making-of piece (11:03) that is done in a standard EPK style as it tries to explain the motivations behind this remake and a theatrical trailer.