The Cabin Fever franchise has always been a bit of a mixed bag, balancing random oddball comedy with extremely grotesque horror, often to varied results. The original Eli Roth film from 2002 is considered by many to be a quirky indie classic that works only because it never takes itself too seriously, and it delivers the goods as far as genre conventions are concerned. The sequel from 2009, on the other hand, was pretty much unanimously panned by fans and critics alike, taking things in a more comedic direction and planting a potential nail in the coffin for this short-lived horror series. So when a third entry miraculously began to take shape, there was really nowhere to go but up. Thankfully, comic book artist-turned-film director Kaare Andrews does an admirable job of salvaging this franchise from pre-emptive decay with Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, which hits all the right notes and has a good deal of fun with itself, despite refusing to take any real risks with the material.
After an outbreak of the flesh-eating epidemic kills a small group of people and leaves one infected survivor (Sean Astin) with a unique immunity to the virus, the mysterious Dr. Edwards (Currie Graham) and his team hold the man prisoner in an underground research facility in an attempt to synthesize a cure. Simultaneously, young friends Marcus, Dobbs, Josh, and Penny embark on an overnight trip to a private, secluded island for Marcus’ bachelor party celebration. One thing leads to another, and some of the friends quickly find themselves infected with the same flesh-eating virus we’ve come to know and love. As the infected remain on the beach and attempt to radio for help, the others venture deeper into the island to find help at a seemingly abandoned laboratory, where they uncover much more than they expected…
Patient Zero functions as either a prequel or a parallel story to the first film. It’s not really clear which, and to be honest, it really doesn’t matter, since you likely won’t learn a single thing more about the virus than you already knew after watching the first film. The concept of the “patient zero” carrier who is immune to its flesh-eating effects is in fact criminally underused, as there really is nothing accomplished by his story other than exploring his unjust treatment and victimization by the medical powers attempting to find a cure. In fact, the whole dynamic of hero and villain is completely backwards in this film, with Dr. Edwards taking on more of a villainous role than anyone else in his attempt to actually cure this terrifying disease, and Sean Astin’s character of Porter becoming the hero we root for despite the fact that he is a global epidemic waiting to happen. Yet the film still somehow works, managing to keep its head on its shoulders right up until the disappointing final few minutes, which are thankfully followed by a fantastic and revealing end credits sequence.
The secondary plot concerning the four friends is far more standard in its structure, with a cast that maintains interest for the most part as they go through the usual routines that are expected prior to the inevitable blood-bath that will ensue. The gore in this one is extremely impressive and abundant – something that fans of the franchise should expect by this point. One gross-out moment in particular functions as an homage to a famous scene from the first film, while another sequence near the end of the film is so ridiculous and over-the-top that it’s sure to make horror fans cheer in their seats. But all things considered, Andrews strives to achieve a more frightening tone here than the last film, with some great moments of suspense emerging once the characters transition into the ‘abandoned’ laboratory setting.
The whole thing may feel a bit safe or generic at times, but if you’re looking for a serviceable horror film with some impressive gross-outs and a couple of genuine laughs, you may want to give this one a look. If nothing else, Andrews has proven that this franchise still has some life left in it’s bloody, decaying carcass.
3 / 5 S T A R S
Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is screening in limited release as part of the Cineplex Sinister Cinemas series. It held its Canadian Premiere on Thursday, May 28th, where director Kaare Andrews was present for a Q & A session following the screening.
The film will screen again on Tuesday, June 3rd as well as Thursday, June 5th at Cineplex Cinemas Yonge Dundas in Toronto. Click here for details and showtimes.