I watched Eli Roth’s plague-ridden first feature over the Christmas period, when I was feeling a little poorly myself. This was possibly not a good idea. Though not as assured as Roth’s notorious second film Hostel (2005), Cabin Fever (2002) is tensely paced with an abundance of the sort of skin-crawling moments which testify to its creator’s grasp of the grosser end of the horror spectrum.
Roth knowingly launches his narrative with the familiar horror template so cleverly mocked in Cabin in the Woods, wherein a group of obnoxious young urbanites embark on a trip into the wilderness. There’s the alpha male, his sexually confident girlfriend and their friends: a more demure young woman, a more sensitive guy and the obligatory buffoon (played with superb jackassery by James DeBello). As per the rules, the group stop off at a local store where they rub various backward, creepy locals up the wrong way, before arriving at an isolated and suitably rustic destination. The scene is thus set for Bad Things to happen. Soon enough, misfortune appears in the festering form of a local hunter suffering from what looks to be a combination of ebola and rabies.
Much of what follows is visceral horror which resonates with the viewer in an excruciatingly personal way. Without elaborating, a scene in which one of the young protagonists shaves her legs had me wincing long after the film had ended. Cabin Fever excels in seizing upon a disgusting idea and carrying it through to its logical conclusion. You can see most of its shocks coming, yet this inevitability heightens the horror. It’s like knowing your worst fears are going to come true.
Cabin Fever might be rough around the edges, with underdone characters and patchy performances, but its creation of disgust and a sympathetic hyper-sensitivity within the viewer is second to none. Its revulsion clings to the memory in a way that the horrors of many similarly themed films do not.