Wednesday, October 5, 2011
CABIN FEVER (2002)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *irony*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological*
Though "hicksploitation" isn't exactly my favorite genre, I can see why this film boosted Eli Roth's directorial career. I've yet to see his more famous HOSTEL work, but I'm impressed that although CABIN FEVER boasts a fair amount of gore, it also excels-- as many gorefilms do not-- in depicting suspense and unease.
The plot recalls the simplicity of the subgenre of "backwoods horrors" seen in the 1980s. A group of city-slicker college kids rent a cabin in the woods and get involved in a series of bad-luck encounters with local backwoods-people-- some of which are the kids' fault, some of which are the fault of a flesh-eating virus on the loose. In contrast to many "medical horror" films, the virus, while peculiar, doesn't prove central to the storyline, and doesn't appear to be bizarre enough to place the film in the "marvelous" category. Rather, the virus serves largely as a catalyst to provoke conflict and violence between the "slicks" and the "hicks."
A lot of "backwoods horror" films portray the denizens of the woods as very nearly subhuman, but CABIN FEVER resists that temptation, even if there's a weird moment at the beginning-- where a crazy young boy bites one college-boy on the hand. The incident can't help but hearken back to the beginning of 1972's DELIVERANCE, where the city slickers encounter some rather inbred-looking specimens. However, on the whole most of the hicks of CABIN FEVER are simply normal human beings caught up in extraordinary circumstances, as much as the collegians. There's not even any of the cliched assocations between backwoods-culture and incest, as one sees in the WRONG TURN films. However, from the college-kids' POV, it's significant that their first diegetic encounter with hick-culture is the crazed boy who bites one of them. For them, the disease that later overtakes them-- which is indeed brought into their midst by a local hermit-- is the horror of the primitive in more-or-less modern dress. So in a sense, even though Roth doesn't portray hicks as subhuman monsters as the WRONG TURN films do, he manages to have his cake and eat it too.
This is the second film on NUM that I've labeled an "irony" in the Fryean terminology. The other was Joseph Losey's SECRET CEREMONY, but after a quick look down my list of reviews I notice that I failed to place two other films in this category, BLACK SWAN and SPASMO. As I've mentioned on THE ARCHETYPAL ARCHIVE it's sometimes difficult to discern where horror movies make the shift from the category of "drama"-- where some constructive "power of action" is possible for the characters-- to "irony," in which all characters lack any ability to use their powers meaningfully. Certainly this is the case for all the characters in CABIN FEVER. Roth manages to inspire both comic and tragic sentiments as one characters after another, both slick and hick, falls before the script's savage plot-twists, putting FEVER a notch or two above the more undistinguished slasher-pics of the 2000s, which simply regurgitated the tendencies of earlier slashers to toss out assorted character-deaths with no emotional consequence. The latter practice can be fun in a brain-dead way, but it doesn't take any particular talent.
The one brilliant moment in Roth's FEVER-dream is a joke that appears at the conclusion, and which builds on dialogue spoken at the film's beginning. It's a great joke that I didn't see coming, and helps dispel some of the apocalyptic gloom with which the film dominantly concludes.