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Sunday
Jul242011

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009) Home Video Review

Meatier than the Original

I'd never intended to see Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever because it's a direct-to-video sequel to a horror movie I only kind of enjoyed. But on a recent episode of the Double Feature podcast, I learned that the film was directed by Ti West, who made the eerie and inventive The House of the Devil. That was the only push I needed to watch it right away.

For me, the only thing that made the original Cabin Fever memorable was the way in which it ran a standard-issue, kids-in-a-cabin movie completely off the rails in the last twenty minutes. The film, like its characters, appeared to succumb to a high fever and a flesh-eating virus. It blacked out and stumbled drunkenly for clues, vomiting up sickly green visions of a rabbit mascot. I didn't fully understand what Eli Roth was getting at with his movie until I saw what West and screenwriter Joshua Malkin did with theirs.

The story picks up almost exactly where part one left off, with Paul (Rider Strong) trying to make it out of the woods where he and his now-dead friends contracted a mysterious, deadly disease. Even with a swollen, dissolving face and limbs that peel off on the branches he runs by, Paul makes it to an open road--across which he is quickly splattered by a school bus.

Instead of treating this like a Friday the 13th sequel and bringing in another hapless crew of kids to discover the infested cabin, West and Malkin focus on the high school where that bus was headed. Following a trippy, animated introduction that traces the virus's journey from the woods to a bottled-water processing center, we find ourselves embroiled in pre-prom drama with geeky outcasts John (Noah Segan) and Alex (Rusty Kelley) scrambling for dates in order to avoid a sad horror-movie marathon with their slightly more pathetic friends.

John pines for his dream girl, the smart and unavailable Cassie (Alexi Wasser) while dodging her abusive boyfriend, Marc (Marc Senter). Alex settles for a bathroom-stall blowjob from a recently dumped tart; too bad for him that A) she has braces and B) she washes him out of her mouth using a bottle of infected water that she'd been nursing before they got together.

For half the run-time, Cabin Fever 2 plays like an anti-homage to 80s horror movies, specifically, Night of the Creeps. The tired character pairings, prank set-ups, and dressing-up montages are all there, but West employs a charming, cavalier attitude towards them. His actors are so naturalistic as to appear untrained; they're all really interesting to look at--in any other movie of this kind, Wasser would have been cast as the gangly nerd-girl instead of the hot hero chick. Add to this at least one cut where the music is delayed by a few seconds, as well as the film's nauseous palette, and it's hard to escape the feeling that West and company are trying to deconstruct high-school horror movies while also making one that's intentionally bad (and, perhaps, inspired in its badness).

By the time the dance rolls around, the virus has manifested in a number of people. The harder they try to conceal their pale skin, bubbling sores or detaching finger nails, the more they come into contact with other people--resulting in blood-piss in the punch bowl, some ill-fated swimming-pool sex, and a panic that puts Carrie's climax to shame. You see, the students' problem isn't just the disease, it's also the mysterious agency that's descended on their school to contain it.

We never learn if the men with the rubber suits, gas masks, and assault rifles are from the government or a private, corporate militia, but their mandate is clear: Keep the virus from spreading. This means chaining the school doors, shooting the principal in the face, and doing room-to-room sweeps to kill anything that moves. Of course, our three protagonists find themselves trapped in the school. What's surprising is how soon their situation becomes absolutely hopeless. While ducking the assassins, John and Cassie run into Marc, who's gone murderously insane. Alex has deteriorated to the point where he can barely see or stand because his penis is oozing pus. John also contracts the disease, leading to a spectacular wood shop-revival of The Evil Dead 2's shed scene.

The thing that separates Cabin Fever 2 from other films of its kind is West and Malkin's uncompromising vision of their characters. They take Eli Roth's naturalistic world view to the nth degree, punishing even the most virtuous players with horrifying fates--in fact turning them into harbingers of human extinction. The omniscient force who uses the virus as its grim reaper hates humanity simply for being human, and revels in heartbreaking scenes of cruelty and unfairness that are as likely to turn your stomach as the gore. The sequel also channels the goofy, tone-shifting quality of the original into a story that doesn't feel nearly as random (aside from the blowjob girl's coda, which feels tacked on and belabored, even though it ties nicely into the closing animated sequence).

I also love the fact that John and Marc are played by actors who look so similar that they're interchangeable aside from hair length and (sometimes) the tone of their delivery. It's a subtle cue that the filmmakers know that their audience only showed up for the violence--as is the fact that John is a mostly passive character--until he flips out on Cassie and gives a whining, angry speech right out of The Breakfast Club. A further nod to the genre's absurdity is the appearance of Mark Borchardt, who chronicled his own exploits in cheap horror filmmaking in the documentary American Movie. He pops up as the cousin of a clueless local deputy (Giuseppe Andrews) and through his awkward, non-actor delivery solidifies West's thesis that earnestness goes a long way in creating art, but it doesn't always result in good art--which, when viewed through the right, cracked lens, can be the most entertaining kind of art (until it is inevitably, necessarily, destroyed by smart-ass, genius fans).

If Ti West professed his love for spooky 80s horror movies with The House of the Devil, he screams his affection for low-budget gore flicks from the mountain tops here. Cabin Fever 2 is part homage, part analysis, part evisceration of a lifetime of guilty pleasures--all rolled into one of the coolest, most bizarre and uncomfortable horror films I've seen in years. You may actually hate yourself after watching it.

Believe it or not, that's really high praise.

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