Film review: Cabin Fever

A hot mess family Christmas

Cabin Fever

Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB
Kari Simonsen lives in an unhappy and painfully co-dependent marriage, and things come to a boil once she is cooped up with her family in a cabin.

Olympia, Wash.

Extended family retreat to a rental cabin in the mountains of Norway for Christmas vacation, where a father’s severe alcoholism mars the festive mood.

Secrets come to the surface. Words wound. Relationships fracture.

God Jul, this isn’t.

The Norwegian dysfunctional domestic drama Cabin Fever (released in Norway as Når nettene blir lange—When the nights get long—is not the festive holiday fare for which you cozy up with the kids in front of a roaring fire. In fact, the adult offspring in this tense test of wills will make you wonder why in the world this couple ever even conceived them in the first place.

Alcoholic patriarch Gunnar (the late Svein Scharffenberg, in a painfully poignant performance) has invited his three daughters, son and their families to join him and their mother, Astrid (vaunted veteran Kari Simonsen), in Christmas celebration at a remote and ramshackle rented roost in the Norwegian mountains. The baggage each of them brings along is hardly limited to the sacks of gifts they’re toting.

cabin fever

Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB
The late Svein Scharffenberg brilliantly plays the dysfunctional family’s alcoholic patriarch.

Almost at once, long festering and deep-seated animosity boils over among the entire brood, until everyone is drowning in a sea of contempt and resentment. The caustic calamity is only fueled by the helpless drinking of Gunnar, despised yet cripplingly enabled, by the beleaguered Astrid. 

Make no mistake, this is an acting tour de force on behalf of all involved here. There are touching scenes of genuine love and compassion that manage to slice through the smothering blanket of hatred and hostility. This includes the film’s enigmatic and ambiguous final images of husband and wife.

Gunnar and Astrid surely don’t equate to an estimable team. And yet, after all the years of trial and turmoil this tenuous twosome have weathered together, can one survive now without the other?

They ain’t much. Still, this is made achingly clear as Cabin Fever comes to conclusion.

They’re all they’ve got.

Or will ever have.

Cabin Fever (2000) is available to watch with subtitles in the United States on Amazon and other streaming services.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 3, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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John Smistad

John Smistad is a published author of short stories, poems, essays, and movie reviews. He lives and loves with his family and cat in the Puget Sound area of Washington state. He is the fiercely proud son of a native Norwegian dad. (He loves his mom, too.) You can follow him as on his blog at