The Cave (2005)
"There are places man was never meant to go"
Deep in the Carpathian Mountains, a team of scientists stumble upon the entrance to a giant underground cave system. Biologists believe the cave could be home to an undiscovered eco-system, so they hire a crack team of American cave explorers to help them investigate its depths. But what the team finds deep inside the cave is not just a new eco-system, but an entirely new, and deadly, species.
2005 was the year of the underground creature feature with this following hot-on-the-heels of The Descent, the superior of the two by a clear margin, but The Cave seems to draw a lot more of its inspiration from Pitch Black, complete with one of its stars in Cole Hauser and a similar creature design. Playing out like one of those generic sci-fi horrors shown on Sy Fy, only with $30 million dollars budget strapped to its back, The Cave was not a box office hit and just about managed to scrape its budget back in takings. There’s a good reason for that: it’s so averagely generic, that it’s almost a dictionary definition.
A routine plot. Cardboard characters. Production values which look sleek in the trailer but aren’t particularly brilliant in the full film. Monsters which are amalgamations of previous on-screen beasties. Action-set pieces which are dull and unoriginal. The Cave ticks a lot of boxes – it’s a shame that it’s all the wrong boxes. There’s nothing energetic about the screenplay. There’s nothing energetic about the performances. Everyone goes through the motions. I always have to ask the question in these circumstances – why bother in the first place? Whilst everyone will compare it to Neil Marshall’s superior spelunking shocker, the similarities with Pitch Black are more obvious. Regardless of which film you want to compare it to, The Cave fares equally as poorly on every single factor.
A major problem I have here is that they’re supposed to be deep underground in a subterranean cave system yet there’s always plenty of space, light and air for them to see, breathe and move around freely for most of their adventure. In fact, so little attempt is made to portray them as being trapped miles underground in this dangerous environment, that the setting looked like a beautiful place to go and visit – one of those secret tourist spots you see on random viral videos and you half expect to see some tourist swimming by taking selfies. Only on occasion do you get the sense that these people are really in any danger of being cut off from the rest of civilisation. The film is just full of these caves: each time the characters venture deeper into the network, the tunnels continue to have the same light and visibility. Only in one reasonably dark scene involving a large underground lagoon do you get the sense that they are somewhere totally alien to us on the surface.
Quite how the creatures have managed to survive for so long down there with very little in the way food is anyone’s guess. There are a few explanations thrown around to give the creatures some scientific basis, but no one really comes to any definite conclusion and we’re left with no further clue as to what they are by the end - some vague hints at these creatures being . At least The Cave keeps CGI to a minimum and the creatures themselves do look good in the flesh, if highly generic. Whenever the creatures attack, expect to see plenty of frenetic camerawork as the film does its best to avoid showing you anything remotely coherent, presumably to hide the creatures for as long as possible and to keep the gore to a minimum (this received a 12a rating in the UK, a ridiculous decision for an ‘adult-targeted’ action-horror). Once or twice is forgivable to build tension and the ‘less is more’ mantra, but consistently doing it throughout the film robs the audience of one of the key reasons why they bother tuning in to genre fare like this. The attack scenes are poorly handled - it’s hard to distinguish just how the characters are killed off and what the creatures do to their victims.
There’s a cast full of recognisable faces – Lena Headey (pre-Game of Thrones days), Morris Chestnut (drifting from one sub-standard creature feature flick in Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid to another one here), Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) and Daniel Dae Kim (TV show Lost) – but let’s be reasonable here, they’re not exactly given decent characters to flesh out and have to recite some truly awful dialogue – “Now we’re part of the food chain” being one of the most cliched amongst it. All of the usual tropes and stereotypes are here with the characters and their flimsy back stories and motives, but it matters little once the creatures come into play. The more expendable members of the expedition meet their fates first before one or two of the well-known faces are fed to the creatures. Hauser is a bit of a charisma vacuum in this, and his bug-eyed serious face looks to be the only trick he has in his locker. To be honest, none of them show anything like the range they can all portray, particularly Headey who went on to do some amazing work as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones. If this was her audition tape, she’d have failed.
If you’re expecting anything other than a standard genre offering here, you’ll be disappointed. The Cave just about does enough during its running time to keep your interest but it’s instantly forgettable with its run-of-the-mill approach to literally everything. Best to keep this clunker buried as far below ground as possible.
Director(s): Bruce Hunt
Writer(s): Michael Steinberg, Tegan West
Actor(s): Cole Hauser, Lena Headey, Morris Chestnut, Eddie Cibrian, Piper Perabo, Daniel Dae Kim, Kieran Darcy-Smith, Rick Ravanello
Duration: 97 mins