Sony Pictures Releasing.
I don’t understand why the 2016 remake of Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever” (2002) is so hated by critics and audiences. It has a 0% rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, and reviews of the movie are withering. I personally thought it was a very well made horror film; I’d rate it at least an 8 out of 10.
Sure, I understand the criticisms. This is definitely an unneeded remake. And the new cast here feels bland compared to the doomed vacationers in Roth’s campier, weirder outing 14 years prior. (Although this isn’t a shot-for-shot remake, it still proceeds mostly from his original script.)
But the new “Cabin Fever” is well filmed, and it’s damned horrifying. Director Travis Z significantly ups the gore, violence and frightening imagery — it’s not for the squeamish. It passes the litmus test for decent horror movies, because it scared me.
Maybe I’m just partial to Roth’s basic story concept — a terrifying new illness that jumps from person to person in an isolated location from which it’s difficult to escape, turning them against one another. It’s precisely the same plot driver as the one for John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), which is among the greatest sci-fi/horror films of all time. And I suppose Roth’s story could be taken as modern retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” with some of the director’s sadism and unique black humor injected into it via his screwball, eccentric characters. Remake or not, this is still a creative change of pace from a genre consistently overcrowded with slashers and shrieking ghosts.
I can’t say that the Australian “Killing Ground” (2016) is a bad horror-thriller. It’s well made in some ways — most notably in its generally excellent cast. (The standouts here are Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows; the latter provides a disturbingly naturalistic performance as one of the story’s evildoers. He’s a talented actor and unnervingly skilled in his role here.) And the cinematography is good, even if it suffers in inevitable comparison to the seminal Australian outback horror-thrillers, the extraordinary “Wolf Creek” films and TV series (2005-2017).
But I can’t actually recommend “Killing Ground” either, because I didn’t enjoy it much. I’d rate it only a 4 out of 10 for its strengths. What held me back from enjoying the movie more is its brutal portrayal of violence.
I realize that sounds ridiculous, given my viewing habits and the films I’ve favorably reviewed right here at this blog. (Any entry in the “Wolf Creek” series, for example, contains far more violence and sadism than “Killing Ground.”) And I’ll probably do a poor job of explaining it now.
But the violence here feels too … realistic. (Other reviewers have noted this as well, and employed the descriptor “hyper-realistic.”) Furthermore, its depiction is not in service to the story, but rather seems the sole and primary focus of the film itself. One of my complaints about “Killing Ground” is that there is not much of a story at all. We simply witness random violence perpetrated against ordinary innocents who we would probably like if we met them. (I am trying to avoid spoilers here; hence my vague language.)
Writer-director Damien Power also delivers this brutality to the audience in a … prosaic manner, I guess, with little fanfare. His movie came across to me like a faux snuff film, instead of a cinematic story of good and evil, or a character-driven survival parable. (I submit that “Wolf Creek” hit it out of the park on both of those counts.)
If you think I’m being unclear here, I apologize for that. The point I’m trying to make is maddeningly difficult to articulate. And I’ll concede up front that my reaction to this film is especially subjective.
If it gives you any context, I’ll point out that critical reaction to “Killing Ground” was quite divided, with some reviewers sharing my discomfort, while others lauded the film. Your mileage may vary.
Endemol Shine UK, Netflix.