Just in time for the latest Ebola outbreak comes “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero,” the second (but one doubts last) in-name-only sequel to Eli Roth’s 2002 cult hit about the scorched-earth path of a flesh-eating virus. Cheap enough to make Roger Corman wince and so strenuously serious (at least until someone gets their face smashed in with a giant dildo) that you pine for the “Mystery Science Theater” commentary track, “Patient Zero” brings the bad biological voodoo to the Dominican Republic, where unethical doctors and hard-partying tourists battle to escape an infected isle with their epidermises intact. Only the least discerning of gore hounds will have the patience to see who emerges victorious.
Until well past the hour mark, “Patient Zero” seem like two separate, equally uninspired riffs on Roth’s overhyped original, as if the filmmakers had started down one path, run aground, then started over again and haphazardly stitched together the results. First up is a by-the-numbers deadly-pandemic quickie set in a grim, bunker-like research facility situated somewhere in the DR wilds. Bearded, bedraggled and looking primed to kill (especially his agents), ex-hobbit Sean Astin stars as the titular guinea pig — the only known carrier of the deadly virus who has managed to remain asymptomatic. He arrives at the facility (packed, for unexplained reasons, in a wooden crate, like a mummy) and soon proves a most uncooperative subject for the doctor (Currie Graham) who sees in his blood the possibility of a vaccine — to say nothing of his own fortune and fame.
Back on the mainland, in what could have been titled “Cabin Fever: Bachelor Party,” soon-to-be-married stud Marcus (Mitch Ryan) readies for a wild night of prenuptial debauchery in the company of his delinquent kid brother Josh (Brando Eaton), best bud Dobbs (Ryan Donowho) and Josh’s girlfriend Penny (Jillian Murray). Together, they sail to a remote “virgin” beach where they will consume much alcohol and a big ol’ bag of pot, while Marcus copes with the usual pre-wedding jitters and the recriminations of his bros (who fear losing him). But upon arrival, and a brief snorkel in the azure waters, two in the party emerge with the telltale red skin blotches that no amount of Benadryl can relieve.
In the press notes, director Kaare Andrews (“Altitude”) describes an arduous shoot beset by hurricanes, food poisoning and venomous critters before enthusing, “And we survived!” And indeed, the fact that no one actually died making this thoroughly lousy movie is about the best one can say about “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero,” which plods lazily between its two storylines (the screenplay is credited to Jake Wade Wall) until they inevitably merge. (Might that virgin beach might just be located on the same island as … ?) Characters reliably behave with the utmost stupidity, entering a quarantine zone with no hazmat suit and venturing alone into the woods, as they navigate the obligatory genre gauntlet of zombified corpses and poor cell-phone reception. Note to the filmmakers: A long, lingering closeup of a doorknob does not qualify as spine-tingling suspense.
Occasionally, the movie tries for levity — as in a knock-down, drag-out catfight between two characters whose infected bodies are falling apart as they go — but not often enough. Still, better that than a last-minute twist that’s like watching a couple of kids with a videocamera try to re-enact the trick ending of “The Usual Suspects.” Andrews has also described “Patient Zero” as a love letter to horror-movie makeup, but most of the scenes are so murkily photographed and choppily edited that the makeup, while duly elaborate, rarely makes much of a visual impact. Fittingly, though, given the uniformly regurgitated feel, the projectile-vomit effects are superb.