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"Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Drink the Water"

While Freddy and Jason play patty-cake on Elm Street, a fresh batch of kids take a vacation in hell in the gross-out horror flick that caused a stir at last year's Toronto Film Festival. "Cabin Fever," a clever gore fest, has its tongue firmly planted in its flesh-eaten cheek. While most of us will not be skewered by a machete wielding specter in a hockey mask, the terror of this film, a virus that leaves its victims skinless and rabid, reflects the SARS-Anthrax reality of today's news. "Cabin Fever" illustrates our living nightmare post September 11th.
Five college graduates spend a week at a remote cabin, surrounded by creepy hillbillies with quick trigger-fingers and mongoloid children. Our protagonists are not exemplary, they're self-involved, rude and un-PC (it is "great" to see the word gay synonymous for loser again). On the other hand, stealing Snickers bars and taunting rednecks do not warrant the punishment the universe bestows on them. On their first night, they encounter a pasty man bleeding from his eyes. The gang freaks out; terrified that he may infect them. Too late.
When one of the girls begins to hemorrhage, the other four quickly turn on her, and then each other. Paranoia eats at them faster than the disease. Before long, they're more in danger from each other than what lurks under their skin.
Newcomer director/writer Eli Roth makes the audience jittery immediately. Introducing our leads and the slack-jawed townspeople (rejects from "Deliverance") at the same time, we never have time to identify or empathize with anyone.
That seems to be Roth's goal. "Cabin Fever" is an experiment in tone, not a character study. Borrowing shots from seventies horror, particularly "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," Roth achieves the same mood as the Tobe Hooper classic. Just don't eat before you go. **3/4

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