Somewhere, I'm sure, there is a list, a long and laundry list of the things that make us tremble. I can imagine that list now, even now, all half-faded type on yellowing paper, the edges torn, the surface crumpled. It's an ancient thing, that list, that smudged list, drawn up by dreamers. A forever kind of thing, and as timeless as fear. Proof, in a way, that our only binding tie is that which makes us afraid.

Long dark hallways and rattling chains. Mists and moons and midnight noises. Ghosts. Demons. Disease. The limitless capacity of any one thing to destroy another.For centuries, storytellers have applied their trade in service to the scare, and for centuries, those that came after paid the greatest of all possible tributes: imitation. And such is the way to best describe Eli Roth's highly-praised Cabin Fever.

From that great and secret list, Roth has chosen seemingly at random, assembling a strange combination of horrific elements in this low-budget throwback to the grainy gore films of the 1970's. Recalling the original Evil Dead in any number of ways, Roth's recipe for a successful homage is one-part forest, one-part confinement, one-part disease, and one-part crazy redneck rampage. Add a dash of drunken teenagers and a pinch of T&A and you're halfway home already. Unfortunately, Cabin Fever is a bit too self-conscious for its own good, oftentimes oscillating between homage and parody, though never quite settling comfortably into its own, borrowed skin. The audience is often caught halfway between a scream and a laugh, largely due to a rather ungainly subplot involving some rather eccentric backwoods townsfolk. The film is most effective when attending to its inevitable victims, and its misguided effort to break away from the isolation of the cabin results in the unfortunate loss of a palpable claustrophobia.

Where the film does succeed, however, it succeeds brilliantly, capturing with its perfect visual style the raw, real-time tone that made films such as The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre such highlights of decades past. There is a realism here that lends itself wonderfully to the horror of the situation at hand, as the unpolished, grainy quality of the film itself seems more like documentary than fiction. The make-up work here is both simple and effective, eschewing the presence of any unnecessary CG in favor of tangible, detailed prosthetics. Every wound, sore and horrific mutation is both shocking and shockingly possible, never too overdone or visually stylized.

Overall, Cabin Fever is an entertaining, albeit imperfect, throwback to a style long gone, though with such promise on evident display, one would be foolish not to look toward Roth for great things in the future.

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