I wasn’t sure what to think about Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, given how little I liked the first film, and how much less I liked the (barely seen) second. Eli Roth’s movies never particularly appealed to me, nor did the torture porn movement they helped spawn. In light of that, the arrival of the third film in the Cabin Fever franchise gave no cause for celebration. “Oh boy, let’s go out into the back of beyond with a bunch of assholes who will die horribly before our eyes! I’ll bring the munchies!”
Truth be told, it’s better than it should be. Better perhaps than any of the preceding Cabin Fever films, though that’s damning with faint praise. It gets to that point simply by being true to its splatter film roots – an increasingly rare feat in these days of CGI – and taking them to their reasonably intense limits. That’s really the purpose of the exercise, and it engages in those duties with more enthusiasm than you might expect. File it under “mostly harmless,” a term that feels much more relaxed now that torture porn no longer dominates the horror genre.
Unfortunately, the formula doesn’t divert far from the predictable, as we move back in time to see the creation of the flesh-eating virus that constitutes the film’s signature threat. In this case, we’re plopped into a lab with a man (Sean Astin) seemingly immune to the virus, and whom the various evil scientists hope to use to find a cure. But that’s before a bachelor party arrives on the same tropical island and contracts the virus themselves. Wacky mayhem of a particularly gruesome variety ensues.
It would have helped to attach all that to a stronger script, though the cast does fine and it’s fun to see Astin in a flat-out horror film. I’m not sure how many people really needed to see how the original got started, and none of the characters engender our sympathies. (The original film fell into the same trap.)Without someone to root for, the story takes on unnecessarily cruel overtones, rubbing our faces in the pointless loss of life and expecting to be applauded for its insight. Even if that weren’t the case, and the film had a stronger engine under the hood, the copious amount of bloodshed tends to drown out everything else, especially in the second half.
That represents both the film’s greatest selling point and its biggest drawback. The violence here is of a particularly intense and gratuitous variety, with a few flashes of ghoulish wit often drowned beneath the gore. Beneath that, the plot serves only as a delivery device for the bloodbath, as Patient Zero revels in our discomfort and seeks out visceral repulsion. Certainly, you can’t say you weren’t warned going in, however, and while you might not like what the film has to offer, you can’t accuse it of false advertising.
And that, in a strange way, gives it a shabby dignity of sorts. Patient Zero never uses computer images or cheats in its gore shots. It’s all make-up and prosthetics, something we’re seeing increasingly less of these days. They’re artful, even beautiful in a way, and with fewer showcases for such effects, hard-core horror fans might relish a movie that embraces them as deeply as this one does. We’ve turned away from this kind of filmmaking in favor of more old-fashioned scares, and while I personally applaud the development, I can’t deny others their chance at something further down the geek show scale. Patient Zero loves what it is, regardless of whether we do or not. I don’t care for it, but I can’t help but carry a certain respect for it because of that.