Daily Archives: September 18, 2003

Cabin Fever (2003)

Throw out all your foolhardy preconceived notions of what you believe to be man’s greatest endeavor. Fire, the wheel, antiseptics, flight? Toss them all in a big garbage can, because Cabin Fever is the greatest single thing human beings have ever and will ever create. I hear a select few countering, “What about the Renaissance?” Oh yeah, did the Renaissance have gratuitous nudity? Wait, scratch that. Did the Renaissance have indulgent nude scenes involving the former Yellow Power Ranger? I think not. Did your fancy-smantzy Renaissance have dogs ripping people apart, backwater yokels who perform kung fu and hobos being set on fire? That’s what I thought. Now who looks like the fool? If I had to live in a Cabin Fever-less world, I would hope it would collapse upon itself, because humanity shouldn’’t have to continue without this movie.

Cabin Fever is a delirious new horror film tweaking all the clichés and expectations of horror. Five friends who have just graduated from college rent a secluded cabin for a weekend. Then their numbers start dwindling through horrific killings. The brutal murderer? A flesh eating bacteria infecting their numbers, ravaging inside them and making flesh fall off like loose cheese on a pizza.

Once the group discovers that one of their friends has become infected they without hesitation quarantine her in a shed. They make failed attempts at getting outside assistance but are pushed back into the hot zone. Their fears and distrust manifest, and what was intended to be a sexual romp in he woods (we all know how that goes in horror flicks) has turned into a microcosm of Lord of the Flies meets Evil Dead II, with a dash of Night of the Living Dead.

What elevates Cabin Fever from similar brainless exercises in mutilating sexually active teens is its self-awareness and constant humor. It plays upon horror staples, particularly the notion of a nation of creepy backwoods folk waiting to take advantage of lost teens. Cabin Fever proudly wears its horror influences on its sleeve. The film is also relentlessly hilarious in its tongue-in-cheek self-awareness. I was laughing all the way through. The film even ends in an inter-racial ho-down with banjos!

The film isn’’t so much scary, though it does have a few shares of scares. The film also isn’’t as gory as you’d believe, but when it shows the gory goods Cabin Fever swings for the fences. Interesting enough, someone on the Cabin Fever crew actually suffered an attack by flesh-eating bacteria in their life and claims the gruesome makeup to be 100 percent authentic.

Writer/director Eli Roth’’s Cabin Fever is a scream. He has an amazing sense of visuals and creates a vivid picture of doom. He displays a sickly entertaining sense of humor, much like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson did before they went Hollywood. The photography is great, the disgusting makeup is skin-crawling (perhaps a more appropriate term than intended) and the performances are dead-on camp. Each of the characters fits into a horror archetype from innocent girl next-door (who gets infected first), sexy brunette vamp, loudmouth drunkard and nice guy who lacks confidence (Rider Strong of Boy Meets World).

Now some will take umbrage to the fact I’m giving a goo-filled horror flick such a high rating. Cabin Fever is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in some time, and is perfect for getting a group of your friends together to experience. I couldn’t ask for more breezy entertainment from a movie. You know what else your fancy Renaissance didn’’t have? People swallowing their harmonicas. I’’m pretty sure they didn’’t have that. Take that harmonica-less Michelangelo, you hack!

Nate’s Grade: A

Dirty Pretty Things (2003)

Director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters) has shown an unflinching eye at the fringe elements of society. In the new thriller Dirty Pretty Things the focus is on the struggling lives of illegal immigrants in over their heads.

The London that Frears displays is the sordid underbelly, the type that hasn’’t seen the light in ages. These people are treated like they’re disposable. Those with whatever menial amount of power, even if it’s a single step higher, prey on these immigrants. “”How come I haven’’t seen you before?”” one character asks another. “”Because we are the people who are not seen,”” he replies.

The heart of the film (you’ll get the pun soon) follows the lives of two immigrants. Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is from Nigeria and works days as a cab driver and nights as a front desk clerk at a hotel. Senay (Amelie’’s Audrey Tatou) is a Turkish housekeeper at the same sleazy hotel trying to stay one step ahead of immigration police. Okwe is instructed to ignore all the salient comings and goings of the hotel. “People come to us to do dirty things,” says the creepy hotel manager Mr. Sneaky (yes, that is his name). “It’s our job to make things pretty the next morning.” Things get more complicated when Okwe discovers a human heart clogging a room toilet. It seems that for some who check into the hotel, they don’t check out. Okwe and Senay become entangled in a bloody scheme that threatens their lives and their immigration status.

Dirty Pretty Things is never boring, sometimes compelling, and more thrilling than you would believe with a plot concerning immigration. The characters earn our attention and emotions with Senay’’s vulnerability to Okwe’’s tenderness and resolute integrity. They draw us in and we genuinely care what happens as they are snared into the creepy clutches of Mr. Sneaky.

It’’s here that I feel obliged to mention that Steven Knight, the writer of Dirty Pretty Things, is the co-creator of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. Just consider the possibilities of future game show creators-turn-thriller screenwriters: Merv Griffin’’s hard hitting thriller on the lives of firemen, anyone? It could have the corny tagline, “”There’’s only one rule of firefighting –– never fall in love.”” Maybe this only fascinates me.

Frears’’ direction is rock solid. He plays to the best aspects of thrillers, like a suffocating feeling of paranoia but doesn’’t suffer the thriller flaws because of such resonant and buoyant characters. Frears is confidant to not overcompensate with his storytelling and lets the grimy locations create his stark mood for him. You can almost taste the stale air.

The acting is exceptional. Ejiofor is amazing. He gives a stellar performance rich in complexity, anxiety, uncertainty, and just plain goodness. He seems to be the last honest man in all of London. There are several scenes you can feel the debate of emotions raging inside him. Tatou, in her first English language role, gives a strong performance, though I’’m curious as to where her “Turkish” accent went. With her penetrating dark eyes and elfin smirk, Tatou is still one of the most adorable actresses on either side of the pond.

Dirty Pretty Things is a searing look at the faceless underprivileged seeking a new life, and those who would deviously prey upon them. The film is a smart, superbly directed, and wonderfully acted thriller. It’’s a thriller without weird kids who see ghosts, or lesbians with ice picks, but Dirty Pretty Things is a film that’ll stay with you long after the lights go up in the theater.

Nate’s Grade: A

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