The reception of mainstream critics to the horror film “The Cave” is exactly the reason why films like this have managed to survive purely on customers who frequent direct-to-video bins and cable networks. Guys like Roger Ebert simply have no understanding of what makes a movie like “The Cave” worthwhile; their sphere of cinematic knowledge begins and ends with Spielberg, Goddard, and Bergman, and a film like this is beyond their comprehension. That’s not to say “The Cave” is a masterwork of filmmaking, because it’s not. Nevertheless, it’s nowhere as bad as critics make it out to be, as it’s a fast-paced and thrilling Creature Feature, and nothing more or less.
The film stars Cole Hauser (last seen fighting soul-destroying cameramen in “Paparazzi”, and before that, flesh-eating monsters in “Pitch Black”), as Jack, the leader of a cave diving team that includes little brother Tyler (“Third Watch’s” Eddie Cibrian), right-hand man Top (Morris Chestnut, “Anacondas”), and Tomboy Charlie (Piper Perabo). When the team is called upon to explore a previously unknown system of caves many miles underground, they find themselves trapped, and become prey to creatures that lives within the darkness. Matters are made worst when Jack, upon his first encounter with the creatures, becomes infected, a bad bit of news since he’s the group’s best chance of getting out alive…
Although it’s very much a Creature Feature, with all the conventions of the genre firmly in place and advanced, “The Cave” does have an ace in the hole — it’s cave setting, which makes for, if nothing else, a novel location for the genre. Directed by Bruce Hunt, the underwater and cave sequences, which make up nearly 95% of the movie, are outstanding. No doubt the (appropriate) darkness of the cave helps to hide the CGI creatures, but it also makes for a stimulating chase as the creatures hunt the humans through caves, underwater tunnels, and towering, cavernous walls.
Make no mistake, “The Cave” isn’t going to win any Oscars, but it does what it does very well, and those coming into the film expecting more simply had no idea what they were getting into. The cast of characters are all predictably one-dimensional, possessing singular personalities, but that’s to be expected. The large cast is simply present to be munched on, and Hunt and his creature effects people go for blink-and-you’ll-miss editing of the creature action until the last few minutes, when we get to see the winged killers in all their gooey, fleshy splendor. Aided in no small part by the film’s overwhelming darkness, the CGI creatures don’t actually look all that bad, and fits in nicely with the cramp surroundings and the movie’s overall shadowy appearance.
Although the budget for “The Cave” couldn’t have been that high, you wouldn’t know it from the look. Setting the action in a series of caves didn’t just make “The Cave’s” locale novel, but it also affords Hunt to shoot some nice scenery. To be sure, Hunt never fully utilizes the twists and turns and crampness of the caves to its full claustrophobic effect, but this is more the fault of the fast pace than anything else. The movie moves at such a quick clip that you never really have time to catch your breath or notice the surroundings. The creatures strike fairly early and often, but to the film’s detriment, the gore is almost non-existent, which is a shame as this alone might have elevate “The Cave” beyond being slightly above average for the genre.
I’ve always liked Cole Hauser as a leading man, and thought his character in “Pitch Black” was really what made that sci-fi film work, and not the starring turn by Vin Diesel which everyone grappled onto. Admittedly, Hauser’s career as a leading man hasn’t really taken off, first starring in the much-derided “Paparazzi” (which I kind of liked), and now the equally much-derided “The Cave”. Hauser does a good job here, but like the rest of the cast, his character is one-note, and it’s of the “take it or leave it” variety. Which is one of the film’s major problems: it just doesn’t have any memorable characters, and after a while you begin to wonder if they were all written as this one-dimensional, or if a big chunk of the film had been chopped off before the action moved into the caves.
For a Creature Feature, “The Cave” is not such a bad offering. Fans of the genre should find more than enough about the film to enjoy, as it offers a credible bodycount and a rather delightful “they’ll probably all die” vibe about it. Bruce Hunt drops the ball by not delivering on the gore, but does compensate with a fast pace that gets right to the heart of the matter. The jaunts through the cave are nicely shot, with some excellent underwater photography. The darkness works within the confines of the story, and overall, you could do worst for CGI creature action than “The Cave”.
Bruce Hunt (director) / Michael Steinberg, Tegan West (screenplay)
CAST: Cole Hauser …. Jack
Morris Chestnut …. Top
Eddie Cibrian …. Tyler
Rick Ravanello …. Briggs
Marcel Iures …. Dr. Nicolai
Daniel Dae Kim …. Kim
Lena Headey …. Kathryn
Piper Perabo …. Charlie