Review: Cabin Fever: Patient Zero

2014/04/18 19:40:49 +00:00 | Becki Hawkes

Eleven years after Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, and five years after Ti West’s Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, horror’s tiniest serial killer is back, with a new installment from Kaare Andrews, a director probably best known for his 2013 ABCs of Death segment.

Officially a prequel rather than a sequel, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero attempts to provide an origin story for the virus, while still delivering enough laughs and gore to keep fans of the previous two films happy. However, like its predecessor Spring Fever, this latest strain of the franchise lacks the infectious inventiveness and sheer bite that made Roth’s first film a cult classic: in horror terms, think mild rash, rather than full-on flesh-eating fury.

Employing a dual narrative technique, Andrews’s film splits the action into two distinct storylines. One of these centers on a remote research facility, where scientists battle to find a cure for a mysterious new disease. Their secret weapon is the eponymous “patient zero,” a man infected with the virus but somehow immune to it (played by Lord of the Rings star Sean Astin). Meanwhile, a group of friends - bridegroom-to-be Marcus, Marcus’s brother Josh, and best mates Dobbs and Penny - head to an idyllic Caribbean island, intent on having one last party before Marcus’s big day. It soon becomes clear there’s more than a spot of trouble in paradise: the island’s crystal seas are polluted by hordes of rotting fish, and before long, tell-tale red marks start appearing on Penny’s skin…

Patient Zero’s strongest scenes are probably those set in the research facility. Sean Astin provides the film with its most credible performance, portraying an increasingly desperate man, more concerned with finding his wife and son than with his status as a potential virus cure. The research center itself is ludicrous, but in an enjoyable way:  Astin is essentially kept in a cage, infected rodents run amok, and the high-tech security system allows intruders to break in within minutes. Currie Graham plays man-in-charge Dr. Edwards, a scientist so palpably cold, unremorseful and evil, he’d be snapped up within minutes by any 1950s B-movie laboratory. Naturally, Dr Edwards is joined by a number of attractive female colleagues, all of whom sport bikinis under open lab coats – a look inexplicably yet to catch on in any major research institutions outside of the cinema.

While parts of the film are enjoyably ropey, other parts are just plain bad. The dialogue, most of the characters and the storyline itself are all disappointingly clichéd, reminiscent of things we’ve seen in other films, while a love triangle between Penny, Marcus and Josh elicits little sympathy, mainly because none of the three characters are really distinct enough for an audience to care about.  Luckily, lack of personality doesn’t prevent anyone in the film from suffering an enjoyably gruesome death. There’s enough skin-peeling, flesh-melting fun to keep fans of the original happy, including a gleefully disgusting oral sex scene.  The film also follows the well-established rule that, if you depict a large black dildo in Act 1 of a horror flick, by Act 3, that dildo needs to be involved in someone’s brutal dispatch.

Sadly, Sean Astin, some inventive gore and a few amusing scenes aren’t really enough to save Patient Zero. Back in 2002, Eli Roth’s first Cabin Fever attracted fans because of its low budget creativity and freshness. Its laughs felt sharper, and its body horror more transgressive than anything Andrew’s latest installment has to offer. There was a genuinely shocking edge to the way the characters in Roth’s film turned on each other:  when lead character Karen was infected, her friends succumbed to paranoia, and locked her in a shed to die. In Patient Zero, when Penny gets sick, her friends nobly team up to try and save her, leading to a Cabin Fever film that, somewhat ironically, lacks any sense of actual cabin fever.

Overall, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is a silly, schlocky, gore-fest, perfect for providing a few laughs on a night in, but nowhere near as enjoyable as Roth’s original film.  When Roth included all these elements in his first film, it felt like a work of passion; a loving homage to the 1980s horrors that Roth grew up with. Here, it just feels like a contrived, somewhat cynical attempt to keep a franchise alive. The virus might be back, but, this time round, it’s unlikely to claim many new victims.

Movie Score: 2/5