The Film (2/5)
David Spade had a joke in his old Hollywood Minute bits where he’d say “[Thing]? I like it better the first time I saw it, when it was called [other thing that the first thing is obviously trying to emulate].” That applies here, except both things aren’t just essentially the same – they’re almost exactly the same.
Eli Roth made his big feature debut in 2002 with Cabin Fever. Some liked it (me), some hated it, but for better or worse it signaled a big new voice in the genre. While Roth went on to build his career with the Hostel Films, Cabin Fever somehow managed to spawn a couple of unlikely sequels that never had a chance to make a fraction of the splash that the original did. So while producers were thinking about ways to make another cheap sequel, someone had the bright idea to just remake the original.
And that’s fine – remakes obviously aren’t anything new, and they aren’t going anywhere. But typically, with a remake, you have someone who comes along and says “Hey I love this but what if…”. What if we changed the tone, what if we changed the story, what if we used today’s technology to really update the effects. That’s the true test of a good remake – can you honor the original while still bringing something new and inventive to the table. With Cabin Fever 2016, they decided to honor the remake by not changing anything at all. New director Travis Zariwny’s big creative approach was to literally use Roth’s script (but trim a few pages) and get input from Roth himself on all the things he wanted to do originally but wasn’t able. The only thing Zariwny brings to the table of his own creative accord is to excise a lot of the weirder non-sequitur humor (Dennis is still there, and he still says ‘pancakes’ when he bites that dude, but his karate kid routine is gone) and really up the ante on the gore effects. But they’re all in service of set pieces we’ve already seen. The so-called ‘finger-bang misfire,’ Marci’s leg-shaving, Karen’s slow deterioration in the shed – everything is exactly the same, just a little bloodier.
Also Deputy “Party Man” Winston is a woman now, which is fine, but what makes it bad is that Zariwny knew it was kind of pointless to try and recapture the weird creepy magic of Giuseppe Andrews’ performance, so he just kept all the dialogue and had Louise Linton essentially play it straight. And the only reason that dialogue ‘worked’ in the first place was because of the WAY that Andrews played it, so if you’re going to take that out of it, why not just re-write her? It’s probably the best example of how lazy and creatively bankrupt this whole endeavor ultimately ends up being.
Sure, it’s well-made; competently shot and acted and edited, but it’s essentially a paint-by-numbers stencil, so really, what’s the point?
It’s definitely good-looking and sounding. The 1080p 2.40:1 transfer makes today’s filmmaking and post technology sing, and I’ll give Zariwny credit for not going the desaturated route here and keeping everything vibrant and full of lush color.
Also, for the laundry list of complaints you can compile, Kevin Riepl’s score is not one of them. I mean it’s nothing ultimately original – he’s no Clint Mansell - but it sounds great.
There’s a trailer and a BTS Featurette that has the director and actors talking about how much fun the production is. And the featurette isn’t even that well put together. It seems more of an obligatory inclusion than a ‘Special Feature.’
It seems like it would be a good fit to say that if you liked the original you’ll like this, but that’s not the case. For all of its problems, the original was a unique creative vision from someone who wanted to create something. Sure, he built his story on the very familiar ‘cabin in the woods’ formula, but Roth did his own thing with it. Zariwny was content to just do Roth’s thing all over again. And I’m just a little dumbstruck as to how a filmmaker could not only be okay with that, but excited about it. Fan-films have more originality and creative vision than this. There’s a lot of talk about bringing Roth’s film to a new generation, but even that rings hollow. First of all, it’s not like Roth’s original is some culturally significant piece of work that’s criminally underrated, but even if it was, why not put your resources into reissuing it? And for that matter, why is Roth letting someone else direct what is essentially his Special Edition Director’s Cut? Cabin Fever 2016 is pretty much the epitome of everything that’s wrong with lazy, cynical, cash grab corporate horror. No mind paid to artistry, or storytelling, or originality of voice. It’s copying someone else’s work, brush stroke for brush stroke, calling it an homage, selling it at a premium, and hoping to use it to launch your own career as an artist. It’s bullshit on a Blu-ray.