The Cave Review
Spoilers! Oh how I hate spoilers. I remember watching Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned late one evening when a member of the audience stood to ask a question and had great glee in informing the assembled audience the final plot twist of M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense. It was a particularly spiteful and hateful thing to do, especially as I hadn't seen the film at the time. Equally as frustrating, at least in my book (or review job) is that of preconceived expectation, knowing about a film before seeing it and making a personal judgement. To this end I rarely view trailers, read as little as is possible about the next big release which is sometimes impossible to achieve short of putting ones fingers in ones ears and shouting “la la la I can't hear you!”. Imagine, then, my frustration when sitting on the bus minding my own business when I hear from behind me, “Oh I saw this really crap film last night; The Cave”, on the same day as I had received it to review! Sometimes I just can't win.
The Cave is Bruce Hunt's debut picture; a Hollywood production boasting a $30 million budget, sophisticated special effects, extensive underwater filming, plush location shooting a plethora of talented, no nonsense actors and scientifically correct instrumentation and fauna design. It is about a group of cave explorers that get trapped underground and find they have to travel deeper into the depths in order to escape, once trapped they realise they are no alone and are, in fact, being hunted by carnivorous creatures fully adapted to life under ground. Ok, ok I know this all sounds
familiar. But where as the Cave is happy to use all the above to give it that Hollywood sheen, Marshall's The Decent is content with a tenth of the budget, a hole in Sheffield, a list of unknowns, a man in a rubber suit and the enthusiasm and drive to pull out genuinely frightening horror film. Hunt, on the other hand, plumped for, or more precisely, was demanded to adhere to the Hollywood standard, commercially successful, PG-13. In practice this means that anything remotely horrific takes place off screen, and for a film about horrific underground carnivorous creatures stalking human prey, that just doesn't seem right.
To be fair to Hunt, though, as hard as he worked to reflect a horror atmosphere in the look, the locations didn't help. For you see the Cave is enormous. It might be dark, and the might be water, but the Cave itself dwarfs all. In all the scrabbling about underground there was never a moment of claustrophobia, aside from one brief underwater struggle to get through a smallish gap, the cavers were never in any danger of getting trapped. Their decent down was more akin to a water slide; their ascent, a rock climb. The creatures that try to hamper their escape take the 'Jaws' route of being heard rather than seen; and whilst this is generally useful for building suspense, so long and drawn out are the confrontations that it becomes an exercise in frustration. For all the money ploughed into the production, sure it looks good, but with a crew of mostly first timers, the entire film comes off as amateurish. By the numbers scares, stereotypical characterisation, internal conflicts between the alpha males, unnecessary back story to the creatures, lengthy run time and lethargic pacing, right down to the (guessable) shock ending; all smack of the 'Roger Corman' school of film making. Don't even get me started on how a fully adapted underground dwelling creature can fly!
The Cave, then, is an un-atmospheric, predictable, long winded, blow out of a movie, the polar opposite of The Descent. Unfortunately, both films were in production at the same time, but the Cave managed its USA premier before Marshall's, and with the Hollywood machine clout behind it secured a strong box office taking, rather swamping the Descent. And as a final insult that final enigmatic shot of the Descent had to be removed for the American audience! Take it from me, if you want a good scare steer well clear of The Cave, for therein lies nothing much of interest. I don't think it is as 'crap' as my fellow bus passenger felt it was, but neither is it much to write about.