By BRUCE DENNILL
Cabin Fever / Directed by Tim Greene / PG13
A brave, timeous project, Cabin Fever is a feature-length film made without a crew or film cameras, shot by the cast on phones (presumably) or similar hand-held devices as they try to keep in touch under COVID-19 lockdown conditions while processing a number of overlapping situations – relationships, health, work and more. Those involved are separated geographically, emotionally and philosophically, with ingrained dysfunction a constant barrier to progress of any kind – over and above the limitations of not being allowed to travel or connect physically with each other.
Stylistically, there is initially a major issue in that the Zoom/WhatsApp video call format has become so familiar now that it doesn’t feel like escapism in the way a film usually does (and everyone in Cabin Fever always video calling rather than just chatting doesn’t feel natural). It’s not about massive budgets or complex special effects; it’s simply that in a conventional film, camera movements, close-ups, lighting choices and all the rest of the basics present a story in a certain way, and with some of the those cues missing, so is some of the richness of the experience. That said, Cabin Fever could be a trailblazer if lockdown lasts longer than expected.
Writer and director Tim Greene ensures the significance of the piece via its script, which shares the relatively superficial feel of the camerawork as it begins to develop, but ties together beautifully further down the line as the differences and interactions between the characters change and evolve as they respond to life-changing, lockdown-influenced events in ways that completely switch the narrative. This has the effect of not only giving the characters substantially more depth, but also making the story overall considerably more engaging and thrilling.
The cast, which includes Jenna Upton, James Cuningham and Keenan Arrison, do well within the constraints of the filmmaking methodology, proving that the technology can communicate more than just the lines the actors say, including feelings of terror, claustrophobia and loss among much else.
Like a million Facebook-launched streaming performances, Cabin Fever will have to overcome the disconnect of the people involved not sharing the same physical space – with each other or with their audience. But Greene has succeeded in delivering something that is emotionally satisfying, which is a laudable triumph.
Cabin Fever premieres on DStv Box Office on 5 August 2020.