Cabin Fever

A refreshingly old-fashioned splatter movie, writer-director Eli Roth's Cabin Fever operates on the firm conviction that stranding a bunch of horny coeds in the woods is still as good a place to start as any. Tipping his hat to such staples as The Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday The 13th, and The Last House On The Left, Roth buries his tongue in his cheek and sets off on a full-blown nostalgia trip, with no skimping on the gore or the T&A. Slavishly evoking the crude, sophomoric early- to mid-'80s horror vibe doesn't count as high ambition, but the film is an intelligent, knowing piece of juvenilia, if such a thing is actually possible. As a flesh-eating virus spreads across backwoods North Carolina, Roth snickers at a great central joke: None of the carnage would have happened if his party-animal characters hadn't shown such callous disregard for their fellow man. When an infected hunter, bleeding out of every pore, pleads for help from five college kids renting out a cabin for the weekend, they greet him with an arsenal of weapons, including a knife, a gun, and a flaming torch. Even the most conscientious of the bunch wards him off with a baseball bat. So once his withered body splashes down in the local water supply, the beer-swilling cretins get what's coming to them. Going by common slasher morality, where teenagers are punished for their carnality, the order of casualties should be as follows: Joey Kern and Cerina Vincent, a pair of self-obsessed hotties who climb in the sack the second they arrive at the cabin; James DeBello, a dopey frat boy who shoots squirrels "because they're gay"; and Rider Strong and Jordan Ladd, who've harbored an innocent puppy love for each other since the seventh grade. But to his credit, Roth doesn't always play by the genre rules. He proves he's an equal-opportunity eviscerator, regardless of whom audiences might peg as the heroes and villains. After a rollicking first half–highlighted by a hilarious walk-on by the director as a local stoner with a soul patch–Cabin Fever runs out of clever ideas once the virus takes over and the blood squibs start popping like firecrackers. For all Roth's assurance behind the camera, he has a hard time making the virus scary, because it isn't mobile and it doesn't cause psychosis or alter behavior in any way, but passes between victims like the flu bug or a head cold. The only palpable tension comes from whether a character will drink a glass of water. But even at its worst, Cabin Fever has a dopey, good-natured, disarming retro spirit that puts an oddly cheerful spin on the dumb kids who unleash the apocalypse.

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