Cabin Fever was a successful horror film that by all rights should have spawned an equally successful horror movie franchise. It never turned out that way. Following the success of Eli Roth’s debut feature upon its release in 2003, Roth penned a proper sequel that was never used. The sequel duties fell to future indie horror maverick Ti West, who would make The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, and The Sacrament (which Roth produced). He also wrote a draft that was unused, and he became mired in so many losing battles with the studio over the final direction of the project that the film ended up getting drastically reshot and reedited into a form West hated so much that he unsuccessfully lobbied to get his name taken off the film and has since disowned it outright. Now, upon the release of a third film, a defacto prequel titled Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, a rumour has begun that a planned fourth sequel – one due to be directed by Jason Goes to Hell and Texas Chainsaw 3D filmmaker Adam Marcus set on a cruise ship – has been scrapped and that the franchise will simply get remade instead by a totally different company without the involvement of anyone who came before.
I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this. It’s probably because the experience of watching Patient Zero is about as fulfilling as watching a clock simply tick away 91 minutes of your time. It starts off interesting, then gets boring, then at a few moments you’ll be transported ever so briefly in your own mind to more memorable times, then you desperately want it to end. By the time the credits are done, you’ll wonder why you ever thought it was a good idea to sit there for that long doing precisely nothing with your time. I’m kind of annoyed that I’m not saving an analogy like this for a better movie, but if I’m writing what I feel than I guess I had better use it now or else I might forget it faster than I’ll forget anything that happened here.
Ditching Middle America for an island off the coast of the Dominican Republic, Patient Zero tells two overlapping stories that will eventually meet. Following an outbreak of a deadly flesh eating virus, disease control workers have isolated a mysterious aid worker named Porter (Sean Astin, with a beard that suggests he’s entered the Zach Galifianakis stage of his career) because he seems to be the only person immune to the deadly, untreatable, and unknown disease. Meanwhile, a group of friends out for a bachelor party have decided to have some brews and smoke some buds on the island, and if you’ve ever seen any horror movie in your life you can guess what happens next.
Whatever film Astin shows up in, that’s the direction the finished product ultimately should have gone in. Those scenes, which sadly only amount to maybe a little less than a third of the overall running time, can generate a bit of suspense and tension while the rest of the film is positively dead on arrival. This doesn’t really seem like a cohesive film, but rather two separate ideas about how a virus should be contained that just had a few of the scenes beefed up in terms of sex and gore and then just had the Cabin Fever franchise name slapped on there.
And if this was intended as a proper franchise entry, then no one involved seems to really give a shit about it. The writing is as lazy as most of the performances are, as evidenced by the film not having a single original or novel plot point or character and every actor not bothering to care very much to bring anything out that’s not on the page. These kinds of films are essentially 80s slashers that are understandably sometimes filled with stock characters, but the main reason so many of them didn’t live on past that decade was because the worst of the bunch were so unwatchable because they were boring.
This is one of those films. The entire arc of the Porter character can be seen from space and no amount of thousand yard stares from Astin can cover up that his secret is painfully obvious. As for the bachelor party attendees and other people trying to contain Porter in a convenient series of underground caves and tunnels, fuck ‘em. There’s the power hungry doctor (Currie Graham), the buxom nurse (Lydia Hearst), a sympathetic doctor (Solly Duran), the blander than bland husband to be (Mitch Ryan), the stock bro from the bro store (Brando Eaton), the stock wuss from the wuss store (Ryan Donowho), and the soon to be wed’s childhood crush (Jillian Murray). I understand that I’m not supposed to give a shit about them since they’re more likely than not all going to die in some horribly gory fashion, but these people aren’t even painfully unlikable. They’re simply there, wasting everyone’s time, and hitting plot points because someone is paying them to do it. Everyone just seems so tired and lifeless that it becomes the opposite of an Adam Sandler cash-in. Those films have no real reason to exist, but everyone seems to be enjoying their paid vacation. This is just a cash-in that’s akin to watching people check their bank balances on the faces of everyone else involved and suddenly getting depressed that their account has less money than they would like to be getting paid.
The film comes courtesy of Canadian filmmaker Kaare Andrews, who after several projects has shown a definite talent that carries over here to the best moments of the film, but it’s hard not to wish he has better material for his next project. The film’s opening looks pretty great (shot in slow motion and wordlessly setting up Porter’s imprisonment. The film certainly delivers on gore and nudity, as per genre convention. He also seems to understand his film is pretty shitty, as evidenced by the hopeless to save climax that prominently features a bloody fight between two incidental characters (featuring an oversized Chekov’s Dildo) that wisely takes precedence over the film’s even shittier, stupider, and flat out nonsensical ending that could never play out between any living or breathing humans; even those acting at their shittiest. He can’t do anything with this material. It might sound like a record repeating, but no one can do anything with any of this.
But perhaps what’s worst about Patient Zero is that it even further betrays what made the original film an original sort of blood soaked throwback. In that film, people were interestingly undone by their own conservative ideologies and their desire to not be infected by this unknown disease. When this film attempts that (far too late in the third act), it feels more like an afterthought than any desire to create tension or character. Also, the first film wasn’t designed to have jump scares. For all its gore and misanthropy, most of the terror of Cabin Fever was psychological. This film has to resort to creating monster-like infected characters in red filtered hallways lined with bodies to simply try and goose the audience by any means necessary. It’s insulting to all but the least possible discerning genre nuts who will blindly like anything with boobs and blood.
It all finally ends after 90 minutes of clock watching with a bunch of credits stingers that brings to mind John McNaughton’s Wild Things, another trash classic that was original and yet ruined by a bunch of inferior direct to video sequels. But what’s worse than being reminded of a better film is the realization that at any point when things got bad, the people on the island could have left. There was positively nothing at all keeping them there other than the plot and inexplicable idiocy. Then you realize that you, too, could have left at any time. The best way to avoid this side effect is to just never watch the movie in the first place.