In all fairness, director Kaare Andrews could have shown colonoscopy footage for an hour and a half and it still would have entertained viewers longer than Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever managed to – but our ambitious auteur goes above and beyond by delivering a sequel more in line with Roth’s original cult phenomenon. Sure, Rider Strong doesn’t drop in for another “explosive” cameo, but back once again is Roth’s flesh-eating virus, and this time it’s ready for the big leagues. Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is a puss-ridden, grotesque, splattery bit of biological horror, and while it lacks the indie charms that wooed franchise fans initially, Andrews’ pseudo-reboot could be the start of something nasty – rivaling Roth’s signature brand of stomach-turning visual horrors.
Since ruining a friendly vacation and eating through a prom, officials are still struggling to contain the hungry virus causing so much devastation. Spreading itself through liquids – lakes, streams; any body of water – we’re finally given our first glimpses of hope in a new character named Mr. Porter (Sean Astin), an immune, infected man. Yes, scientists finally have their patient zero, but after losing his family, Mr. Porter’s imprisoned nature starts to drive him insane. Despite all his rage, Mr. Porter is still just a rat in a cage – unless he can escape. Meanwhile, on the same deserted island, Marcus (Mitch Ryan) celebrates his last day of bachelorhood with a close group of friends – tourists unaware of the experiments being conducted only a short distance away. I mean, this is a disaster horror movie – I think you can predict what happens next…
Comparing the Cabin Fever trilogy is like comparing apples to grenades, as each film has established itself in a completely different light. Roth’s original abides by indie guidelines like a good little thriller should, “Ti West’s” Spring Fever settles for unfunny campiness, and Cabin Fever: Patient Zero aims for a tonal combination right smack in the middle. Never getting as dreadfully asinine as Spring Fever, Andrews and writer Jake Wade Wall establish a goofy crew of partying hardbodies, but hints of a global pandemic loom ominously overhead. There’s a clear definition between sexual slapstick comedy and dark, atmospheric chills, and while Roth’s original vision emphasizes more terror, Andrews strikes a favorable balance while threatening uncontrollable chaos.
Spring Fever failed on numerous levels, one being a horrid, corroded story full of holes and nonsense – something Cabin Fever: Patient Zero attempts to remedy. With Mr. Porter, Andrews is given a new start, launching a tropical story arc miles away from any mountain regions and lame high school dances, creating new advances as the virus mutates – and new questions quickly glossed over. As the virus now engulfs victims at a more rapid pace, people become zombies of sorts, but even with missing patches of skin, rotted insides, weakened muscles, and flimsy bodily structures, they trudge about as survivors attempt to escape the island. People don’t just simply lay down and fester as Andrews charts monstrous waters, and it makes for a blended horror experience providing conflicted confusion compared to past victims.
Characters can’t escape their own obvious fates either, as we shake our heads in disbelief at some decisions. Even if you were the most dedicated scientist in all the land, would you infiltrate a sick patient’s quarantine cell without a hazmat suit knowing full well you’d die if infected? Here’s a man covered in popping pustules, oozing all types of fluids, visibly sick, and protection is the last thing on your mind? I understand our virus has to be spread somehow, but means of expansion seem forced and staged – as even characters confusingly exclaim “I don’t know how it got out, I just work here! I don’t know the structural design of the lab!” Cabin Fever: Patient Zero begs for a tighter script, but Andrews does his best to work around “Horror 101” grade material.
Stars do their best to captivate, but Mitch Ryan struggles as lead hero Marcus. I never felt that charismatic machismo or scene carrying strength as Marcus struggled to keep his friends alive, running a strange range of emotions that border on dumbstruck to sarcastically unfunny. Ryan Donowho accompanies Mitch as his right-hand sidekick, who achieves more character success, and Brando Eaton provides an overly muscular frat-head for everyone to chuckle at with social pity, but there’s a strange dynamic between the group at times – like they don’t belong together. Jillian Murray attempts to inject some hormonal glue to bind the group together, playing Ryan’s friend and Eaton’s lover, but her glory is short lived as we all know the fate of female characters in Cabin Fever movies – she’s essentially the Karen (Jordan Ladd) of Cabin Fever: Patient Zero.
Considering how haphazardly cobbled together such a film feels, here’s where Andrews saves face – er, I mean, shreds some face? I can’t describe how graphically gruesome Cabin Fever: Patient Zero becomes as the virus appears stronger, transcending B-Movie wackiness in ways that might even make Eli Roth blush himself. Heads transform into paper mache pinatas filled with jello, exploding upon impact, while skin slips from muscle as if you’re watching a sausage casing being removed – a real jaw-dropping spectacle of ravenous bacteria.
There’s even a throwdown between a woman who looks like she’s been flipped inside out, displaying red, raw tissue where pasty skin should be, and her ghoulish looking zombie adversary – like a horror themed version of Mortal Kombat. I shit you not, these girls deconstruct each other like we’re watching a Celebrity Deathmatch skit, highlighting levels of Surgeon Simulator goofiness and sticky, squishy, unforgivably repugnant deformations. Between limps snapping like twigs, faces caving in, and flesh splitting like raw fish, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is a non-stop Gallagher show – except instead of watermelons exploding, substitute real, decaying humans.
Comparatively, Andrews avoids a doomed cinematic fate by creating Cabin Fever‘s first worthwhile sequel – competing against a horse not even capable of leaving its gate. On a wholly independent level, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is an overly gory, absolutely bonkers good time that exemplifies “mindless horror cinema.” Gleefully gory, relentlessly unapologetic, and boasting a bloody, ferocious charm, Kaare Andrews challenges viewers to weather this choppy, disease-ridden storm – just don’t drink the water.
Cabin Fever: Patient Zero certainly lives up to Eli Roth's gory standards, but individual enjoyment will hinge on one's love of schlocky B-Movie antics.