I'll say this much: You have to appreciate truth in advertising when it comes to Hollywood. "Beneath heaven lies hell. Beneath hell lies … The Cave." That can't be a good thing.
And thus the movie studio dug up this long-delayed cinematic fossil for release during the summer movie doldrums of late August—that little window of theatrical limbo for movies that they don't know what to do with. Unfortunately for them, The Cave probably cost too much to release it directly to video.
There's definitely an underworld in The Cave, but it has very little to do with demons and eternal punishment (unless, of course, it's being shown in regular rotation of a Worst Movies Marathon in hell a la The Far Side). The film's official site pains itself to establish the science behind the story. In the late 1980s, while surveying the soil for potential building, scientists discovered Romania's Movila Caves near the Black Sea. Inside they discovered a mini eco-system of sulphuric water supporting 35 new species of invertebrates, theorized as living fossils from the Ice Age. Of course, we're talking critters less than a foot long, but what if they were, like, really big? What if man weren't at the top of the food chain?
Far more tangential science than needed for such a sub-standard monster movie plot, which begins 30 years ago with a group of robbers raiding an ancient monastery in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. They fall into a sealed, subterranean hollow and hear mysterious chattering in the dark, but to the film's credit, their fate isn't immediately revealed.
Cut to the present day, where we meet Jack (Cole Hauser), his brother Tyler (Eddie Cibrian), and an expert team of cave divers finishing an assignment somewhere in the ocean. They've been contacted by Dr. Nicolai (Marcel Iures) and his assistant Kathryn (Lena Headley), who have discovered a brand new cave in Romania that seems to stretch for miles underneath the surface. Thrilled by the prospect of exploring a "virgin cave," the team immediately packs up their state-of-the-art technology, including some scuba gear that allows for 24 hours of diving—set up to be important to the plot, it never is.
This is the world's top team of divers, yet they foolishly throw all their eggs in one basket. After a successful descent into the first cavern, they all proceed nearly three miles underwater to the next, only to be trapped there after a cave-in blocks their way back. You'd think they'd have a base camp established on the surface, or at least in the first cavern, but no. With only twelve days of supplies and no communication with the surface world, Jack is forced to decide whether to stay put for two weeks and wait for help to come, or to take his team deeper in search of an exit. Well, they're clearly the best … what would you expect?
As advertised, things go from bad to worse when the team starts hearing the strange sounds from the film's beginning. The need to escape the cave becomes more desperate after they mysteriously lose one from their party. It seems there may be another form of life in the dark with them, "clearly a predator," and there are still eight more explorers on the menu.
The Cave is initially promising, approaching the formulaic story with a degree of realism. First-time director Bruce Hunt (who assisted in filming The Matrix trilogy and Dark City) also shows some talent with the visuals, establishing a sense of foreboding early on. Also credit the set designers for doing a fine job of recreating a believable subterranean environment.
But then the formula kicks in, and the movie is dead in the water. A movie like this should stand on its own merits rather than borrow from better films. The Cave is essentially an inferior retread of Pitch Black, which was already a so-so descendent of Aliens. Hauser also starred in Pitch Black, but this time he's the one with creepy eyes leading an ambivalent group through the darkness. Sci-fi geeks familiar with Leviathan will see where this movie is headed from miles away. The creature design shamelessly rips off H. R. Giger's toothy beastie from Alien, and there's even a brief recreation of the famed resuscitation scene from James Cameron's The Abyss.
It goes without saying that a movie like this has disposable characters, but they're even more bland and flavorless than typical of the genre. Attempts to develop personalities and relationships are wasted, particularly the strained history between brothers Jack and Tyler—both heroes are flat and uninteresting. Piper Perabo is surprisingly under-utilized and annoying in this movie, considering that the rising starlet has one of the more high profile resumes (Cheaper by the Dozen, Coyote Ugly, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle) of the cast. Not a good sign either when you can figure out who's going to survive (and who's first to go), even with such minimal character development. And while some of the dialogue is endearing in a '50s sci-fi B-movie kind of way, it's generally lifeless with stinkers like, "Hey … respect the cave."
Stemming from all of this, the biggest problem with The Cave is that it's flat-out dull. There are some cheap early scares caused by loud noises, quick reveals, and the uncertainty of what kind of film to expect. But once you pick up on its predictable rhythm, the movie grows tiresome by following endless jumping and diving into cave after cave after ledge after burrow after grotto after cave. Despite some of his strong visuals, Hunt's apparently a student from the Michael Bay school of filming, rendering most all the action scenes incomprehensible with quick editing, close-ups, and jerky camera work. The few effects we do see are pretty poor CGI effects, though they're trumped by the awful sound design—there's a hilariously cheesy sounding laser sonar gun that sounds like it's from a '60s television program.
Several indicators during the movie suggest The Cave was originally intended as an R-rated film, undoubtedly trimmed to a PG-13 in order to dupe a wider audience for the first week; a friend correctly compared this to watching something badly edited for television. All its faults notwithstanding, The Cave is not famously awful like certain summer (intended) blockbusters. It's about what you'd expect from a sub-par, low budget, B-movie destined to take residence among the direct-to-video releases at Blockbuster and the Saturday night features on the Sci-Fi Channel. I can see it now: "Beneath this week's top movie rentals lie some untouched copies of … The Cave."Discussion starters
- Do you believe that there are still undiscovered species in the world? Are creatures like these a part of God's intelligent design or simply adaptive evolution to their limited location? Is evolution the opposite of the creation theory, or does God operate through the process of evolution?
- Why do the team members begin to question Jack's leadership to get them out of the cave? What allows us to trust leaders enough to follow them into uncertain places?
- Jack's reluctant to delegate tasks to his younger brother Tyler. What factors in a leader's decision to delegate authority to another? How is it essential to success? What is risked in the process??
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Though "intense creature violence" is the only reason cited by the MPAA for the rating, take the PG-13 seriously. The film's not terribly bloody, but it's as violent as, say, an episode of The X-Files. For some reason, the ratings board failed to mention the film's bad language, including a number of irreverent uses of the Lord's name—a couple scenes humorously suggest that this was an R film edited down to a PG-13. Also, actress Piper Perabo scales a cave wall with some of the skimpiest athletic wear you've ever seen.
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Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 09/01/05
True: Hell is a place full of demons.
False: If people use enough explosives, they can bust through into hell and let the demons out.
True: Bruce Hunt's The Cave, a movie based on the preceding false premise, has critics comparing the experience to eternal suffering.
Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) says, "The complete avoidance of character development, alternately giggle- and cringe-inducing dialogue, hectic violence and strict adherence to nearly every monster movie cliché ever invented don't help. The Cave is a dark, disorienting place that will have lots of people looking for a way out of the theater."
Mainstream critics would clearly like to bury the film where no one is unfortunate enough to find it.