Fri, Dec 24, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Something's gone rotten in the woods

Eli Roth's `Cabin Fever' is simple and predictable: Some teenagers go to the country and find horror and have to fend for themselves

By Stephen Holden  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Cabin Fever is Blair Witch Project with gore inserted and suspense suspended.


Making a satisfying horror film is as difficult as cooking a perfect risotto. Split-second timing and a meticulous balance of ingredients are critical for achieving a rich but chewy consistency. The elements that make up Cabin Fever, a movie that finds an unusually potent blend of dread, gore and gallows humor, are as commonplace as rice, butter, cheese and broth.

But the director and producer Eli Roth, who wrote the story and collaborated on the screenplay with Randy Pearlman, has cooked up a tempting teens-in-the-woods bloodbath that suggests a Blair Witch Project with the blanks filled in, the camera stabilized and the story embellished with an evocative score (by Nathan Barr) whose shivery texture is spiced with the sounds of buzzing flies.

Cabin Fever takes the notion of a rotting rural environment (in autumn), where a toxic, corpse-littered reservoir is the source for commercially marketed spring water, and makes it a metaphor for a contaminated world on the brink of a viral nightmare. That reservoir is the probable source of a contagious disease resembling the Ebola virus, which eventually afflicts all but one of the five brash teenagers who rent a cabin together for a weeklong party that quickly turns into a nightmare.

One reason Cabin Fever, which opens today, sustains such a palpable mood of foreboding until the end is that it stays away from the supernatural and makes minimal use of cheap shock effects. Because the horror doesn't emanate from a standardized special-effects hell, but from the poisoned land itself, it is all the more ominous.

The five friends who pile into a pickup truck and make their way over rutted muddy roads and backwoods trails to a snug log cabin in a desiccated forest make up the typical assortment of teenage types facing terror. The blond-surfer-wholesome Jeff (Joey Kern) and his sultry girlfriend, Marcy (Cerina Vincent), are hot-and-heavy sweethearts. The slightly nerdy Paul (Rider Strong) pines after Karen (Jordan Ladd), a friend since childhood, who teases him with the possibility of romance. Bert (James DeBello), who brings along a BB gun to shoot squirrels ("because they're gay," he sneers), is a dumb, beer-swilling lout with pyromaniacal tendencies.

Film Notes: Cabin Fever

Directed by: Eli Roth


Rider Strong (Paul), Jordan Ladd (Karen), Joey Kern (Jeff), Cerina Vincent (Marcy), James DeBello (Bert), Guiseppe Andrews (Winston) and David Kaufbird (Justin)

Running time: 94 minutes

Taiwan Release: today

The bad vibes begin at the general store where oddities like fox urine can be purchased and where Bert offends the locals by trying to steal a candy bar. When the long-haired wild child of a son of the storekeeper lunges at Paul and bites his hand, he is advised to wash it in the muddy creek out back.

Once in the woods, they encounter a profusely bleeding man who pleads for medical help. Terrified that they will catch his illness, the campers refuse, and he jumps in their truck and tries to flee. In the melee that ensues, he is shot, beaten and set on fire.

Creepy visitors materialize out of the woods. Another camper, Justin (David Kaufbird), accompanied by a vicious dog he calls Dr Mambo, offers them marijuana. The beast later returns to menace the group, who fend him off with gunshots. Then there is Winston (Guiseppe Andrews), a leering young sheriff's deputy obsessed with partying, who talks like a gurgling libidinous half-wit. Cabin Fever subscribes wholeheartedly (if satirically) to the familiar horror movie vision of rural people as malevolent, demented hillbillies who regard suburban teenagers as prey.

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