As fans of horror films, we get more than our fair share of sequels. When mainstream movies do well to get more than trilogy, the biggest horror franchises carry on for five, six, or even more films. We’re as used to it as we are the diminishing returns that these sequels provide. As a result, horror fans generally are more able to consider of the independent merits of sequels than the average film fan. This is further helped by the fact that horror, more than any other genre, gives us more sequels that are genuinely good in their own right; in a few rare cases the sequels are actually better than the original on which they are based. Good examples of this are the opening films in the ‘Wrong Turn’ franchise. The first one was a derivative and half-hearted attempt at updating the backwoods cannibal tropes but the second, free from expectation, was a gory, silly, comedic gem. This pattern also applies to ‘Cabin Fever’ and its sequel. Aside from excellent sound design and some striking effects, I have no love for the original; I found it to be tedious in the extreme, too obviously trying to fit into the same dreary bracket as Roth’s sister work ‘Hostel’. The sequel however transplanted the tale to high school, ramped up the gore, and injected a huge dose of fun into the proceedings, delivering a film that, whilst silly, was genuinely very good. It was with some excitement then that I sat down to the third in the franchise, ‘Cabin Fever: Patient Zero’.
The story follows Marcus who, whilst preparing to marry in the Caribbean, takes his friends via private yacht to his bachelor party on a nearby island. Once there it becomes apparent there is a very good reason that the island is deserted and, when two of the party begin to show signs of illness, the friends are forced to journey inland for help. When they encounter the mysterious Dr Edwards and his efforts to contain an outbreak of a flesh-easting virus they, and the survivors of the nearby government facility, are plunged into a race against time to find a cure and escape the island.
‘Patient Zero’ has been in development for a lengthy period of time. Originally announced to shoot back-to-back with the fourth instalment ‘Outbreak’ in 2011, the film then disappeared before surfacing again towards the end of 2012 with a vastly altered story. It was then slated for release in 2013 but was delayed until finally being pinned down for March in the UK. Whilst officially a prequel only the nature of the virus and the title connect it to the franchise in any way. The plot is fairly standard, the characters all behave according to type, all expected plot developments occur, and everything concludes satisfactorily. Once at the end, however, the film throws a curve ball raising new questions and leading nicely to the next part of the franchise. I do not know if the films are being made consecutively as was the original plan but ‘Patient Zero’ certainly feels like the first part of a bigger narrative. Happily this becomes apparent so late in the day that the movie feels finished and the audience is not left feeling short changed by unfinished character arcs and plot points.
The script is perfectly decent for this kind of film and tries to strike a balance between the serious and comedic tones of the previous two films. It is moderately successful, providing solid dialogue and character interactions, but does lack the sense of fun so evident in the first sequel. That said, ‘Patient Zero’ aspires to be a more “straight” horror movie, so this is easy to overlook. There are also some ludicrous decisions made by the medical staff at various points but they are at least in keeping with other films of this kind. What is more difficult to forgive, however, are the huge lulls in the action; a trait it shares with director Kaare Andrews first feature ‘Altitude’ from 2010. The film runs at 95 minutes but, aside from an impressive monochrome slow motion opening, nothing really happens for the first twenty five minutes; there’s also an extended lull around the hour mark before the action really kicks off in the final act. It is a shame that writer Jake Wade Wall was not able to reign it in a little more; if he had stripped it out to around the 80 minute mark the overall film would have been a much tighter, leaner specimen.
The performances are a rather mixed bag. The twentysomethings who make up the bulk of the cast are perfectly fine in their roles although I do think Mitch Ryan is too bland and vanilla to be convincing as leading man. Special mention must go to Jillian Murray who does the best she can in a very one-dimensional role and who spends the last act of the film under a huge amount of latex. They are ably assisted by Currie Graham as Dr Edwards, who brings his trademark smarmy arrogance to the role, and Solly Duran and Lydia Hearst as his assistants Camila and Bridget. The headliner of the cast is Sean Astin as Porter, the patient zero of the title. Sporting a huge beard he looks much older in the role and, more than anyone else, has to make do with a character arc which begins promisingly but ultimately goes nowhere – in this instalment at least.
The special effects are largely excellent for a production with such a modest budget. Most of the effects are practical makeup to show the various stages of the virus developing and they are very convincing. Admittedly some of the more advanced stages do look a little cheap but not distractingly so but there are some excellent set piece sequences; efforts to obtain a blood sample from someone’s rapidly necrotising flesh and a fistfight where two characters literally knock chunks off each other are particular highlights, as is a stomach-churning sex scene about halfway through which is played for blackly comic effect. These are further supported by some excellent sound effects that further emphasise the slimy, gooey nature of those ravaged by the virus.
On balance, ‘Cabin Fever: Patient Zero’ is an enjoyably grisly little movie. It is baggy and rough around the edges but is ultimately saved by great special effects and some crazy visuals in the final act. Frustratingly, it is clearly the first part of a greater story and it will be interesting to see the direction the next instalment takes. The performances are generally decent, the violence is novel and nasty, and I was left wanting more. If you’re in the market for a mindless ninety minutes, and stick it out past the opening act, there’s much to enjoy here. It also has the greatest scene featuring a huge dildo that I’ve witnessed for years; high praise indeed.
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