Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on August 26, 2005, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

There’s very little to say about The Cave that hasn’t been said about the dozens of similar movies to hit screens (occasionally big, mostly small) in the two and a half decades since Alien. It’s the same old drill: A group of people, either a military team or a group of specialists (in this case, the latter), venture into and/or are trapped in a dark, claustrophobic environment with a creature or creatures out to make them its/their next meal. Occasionally, interesting variations on the characters or monsters can make such a film stand out; the last theatrical example was Pitch Black, which comes to mind more than once during The Cave thanks to faintly familiar beastie design (Patrick Tatopoulos was the creature supervisor on both) and the common presence of star Cole Hauser. Most of the time, though, the experience is like that of The Cave, with both human protagonists and inhuman villains just going through the motions.

The setting here is a subterranean cavern system under the Carpathian mountains, which (as a prologue establishes) was once a destination for relic hunters and in the present day is visited by a team of scientists and cave divers. The latter are led by Jack (Hauser), who has a bit of a contentious relationship with brother Tyler (Eddie Cibrian)—one that threatens to become even more tense when they both get a load of beautiful biologist Kathryn (Lena Headey, having a big weekend between this and The Brothers Grimm). This potential rivalry is forgotten about as the film goes on, and so is pretty much any other attempt to give these people any memorable color or personality. The presence of Daniel Dae Kim in the cast only helps remind that any one-hour episode of Lost has more conflict and interpersonal drama than this 97-minute feature.

So down they go into the dark, where the film is at its best in the scene-setting moments. Wes Skiles’ underwater photography and the mix of Romanian locations and veteran Pier Luigi Basile’s production design provide the exploration scenes a genuine atmosphere; you do get the feeling you’re down there in the depths with the team. Then someone swims off to investigate that strange noise, and anyone watching the movie could probably write the rest of the screenplay from there.

The one promising subplot involves our hero Jack being infected by a parasite that, we learn along with the protagonists, transforms its hosts into the same slimy, fanged lifeforms that are trying to do them in. Yet little is made of this provocative development—a man becoming the very enemy he faces—which comes to serve only as a suspense-building “ticking clock”—will Jack succumb to the monstrous side before he can lead the rest of the group to safety? Even so, the film fudges that particular tension by having the survivors find their way through the endless unmapped caverns with remarkable ease on the way to the climax.

Director Bruce Hunt, a 2nd-unit veteran of The Matrix and Dark City making his feature directorial debut, does stage a couple of strong setpieces, most notably one in which climber Charlie (Piper Perabo) swings along a cliff face in an attempt to evade a hungry critter. Too often, though, the action becomes a blur of indistinct motion, and the film never commits to a visual approach to its monsters—keep them vague and mysterious, or put them in your face. Tatopoulos’ FX are expertly crafted, though by now it’s probably impossible to do any sort of slimy/fanged/winged movie monstrosity without a sense of déjà vu setting in.

What makes the difference is the narrative surrounding the menaces, and the people they attack. For all its considerable technical polish (I also liked the score by Land of the Dead’s Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek), there’s very little in The Cave that you can’t see most Saturday nights on the Sci Fi Channel. “Why’d they even go in that damn cave anyway?” muttered someone on the way out of the screening I attended; whether you’re talking the filmmakers or the characters, it’s a fair question.

Similar Posts