If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the remake of “Cabin Fever” reps a particularly po-faced exercise in pointless puffery. Arriving just shy of 15 years after Eli Roth’s 2002 gorefest scared up enough admirers and box office to launch his career, it’s little surprise that Roth himself is the exec producer of this nearly beat-for-beat redo. Who else would feel as much passion for the middling material? And who better to ensure the copy does nothing to improve on the original? The silver lining of a day-and-date limited theatrical and VOD release is that there’s no chance this repurposed dud duplicates the original’s commercial performance.
Lack of originality feels like a fairly meaningless complaint when Roth’s film was derivative enough to begin with. The plot: Five interchangeably boring college grads set out for a remote cabin in the woods to chill out, smoke pot and have sex, and wind up paying with their lives. At the time, shortly after the twin successes of “The Sixth Sense” and “The Blair Witch Project,” Roth got some mileage out of hyping his work as a return to down-and-dirty exploitation-style horror. He may have been seen by some as a bold new voice in the genre, but time has not been terribly kind to Roth’s reputation.
And time certainly hasn’t done any favors for his “Cabin Fever” screenplay, co-written with Randy Pearlstein and resurrected here almost in its entirety. Slavishly unimaginative helmer Travis Z (it stands for Zariwny) makes a few tweaks — a smugly provocative racial epithet is excised, the gender of a key supporting player (sleazy Deputy Winston, played here by Louise Linton) is flipped, and the death of one female character is made even more grotesque and cruel (upping the already considerable misogyny quotient) — but to no meaningful end.
Otherwise the film is exactly the same as its predecessor, right down to the irritatingly contrived and purportedly humorous banter, cloying backwoods caricatures, and flesh-destroying illness spread by water (any similarities to Flint, Mich., are unintentional and best ignored). A better movie might conjure a disquieting atmosphere of dread as its clueless characters await their fates. All “Cabin Fever” conjures is a single question: Why? The answer never arrives.
No breakout stars emerged the first time around, and judging only by their work here, the remake’s ensemble appears headed for the same fate. Similarly, by making the deliberate choice to do nothing to distinguish his work from Roth’s, director Z stokes little confidence in his future projects. Especially if his next film is a remake of “Hostel.”