A small outbreak of a nasty flesh-eating virus has left a single survivor, and now the scientists responsible for it all have turned Porter (Sean Astin) into a human lab rat. Having watched his only son melt in his arms, Porter’s far from a willing participant in the experimentation and instead just wants to return to his wife.
Elsewhere on the island four friends have arrived for an impromptu bachelor party. Marcus (Mitch Ryan) is a day away from getting married, so when his brother Josh (Brando Eaton) and their friends Dobbs (Ryan Donowho) and Penny (Jillian Murray) suggest the overnight trip to a secluded island he finds it hard to resist. A brief swim along the shore reveals a curious absence of sea life, but that doesn’t interfere with diving of another sort back in the tent… and it’s not long before the dangers of island cunnilingus come very, very clear. And bloody. They come very, very bloody.
Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is the third in the franchise begun twelve years ago by Eli Roth, but while it’s still far from a gem of horror cinema it holds its own thanks to an abundance of expertly crafted and wonderfully gooey gore.
The first hour bounces between the film’s two concurrent story lines, and they both have their own share of strengths and weaknesses.
Porter’s captivity reveals a more interesting set of characters as the scientists and doctors around him debate the morality and merits of testing on an unwilling human subject. Dr. Edwards (Currie Graham) sees glory and fortune in his future if he can crack the cure, but while the busty and unprofessionally-dressed Bridgett (Lydia Hearst) is mostly on board with his actions a second assistant, Camila (Solly Duran), is not so sure.
The best part of these scenes see Porter’s rage sink just below the surface while remaining visible in Astin’s eyes, and his role as victim enters a gray area — at least until all the areas are painted red — as his actions threaten to pull unwary innocents into the bloody maelstrom.
The quartet of partying friends are innocents, but they’re also never the least bit interesting or engaging. Their performances are competent enough — it’s the script that leaves everyone lacking a personality or reason why we should give a damn about their survival. The script is easily the weakest element of the film, and while it’s easy to say the script is rarely the highlight of a horror film that goes double when the horror film is written by Jake Wade Wall. When a Stranger Calls remake, The Hitcher remake, Amusement and now this all show him to be someone who can lead a character to their demise but can’t make them think. But hey, maybe he’ll get it right with the upcoming Jacob’s Ladder remake.
Director Kaare Andrews makes the most of a bad script by keeping things interesting on the visual front as best he can. Murray and Hearst are part of that for obvious reasons, and the duo come together for the film’s highlight scene featuring the world’s messiest cat fight. (And it’s not messy in a “sexy food fight” kind of way either.) Andrews’ previous feature, Altitude, also failed to take off, but a better taste of his particular talents can be glimpsed in his portion of The ABCs of Death, “V is for Vagitus.” His sharp and stylish eye feels muted here, relegated mostly to a pre-credits sequence, but at least he doesn’t shy away from the red stuff once the bodies start falling apart, imploding and otherwise acting like paper bags stuffed with salsa.
Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is one “pancake boy” away from being the best of the three films so far, but it remains far more interested in bloody effects than in creating worthwhile characters or an interesting story to place them in. Happily, while those effects would be even better if they weren’t constantly hidden in dimly lit hallways and shadows, they’re still pretty damn great. And wet. And sloppy.
The Upside: Fantastically gory; bloody cat fight
The Downside: Too dark (lighting-wise); unappealing/uninteresting characters; we’ve seen this before; Porter doesn’t fit the definition of a “patient zero”
On the Side: A fourth film (Cabin Fever: Outbreak) was planned to be shot back to back with this one, but the idea was scrapped at some point during production.