Recipe for a thriller movie: take the tension of the unknown from Alien, mix in the anxiety from The Abyss, add a touch of the mysterious from Predator and mix well. Then discard anything of substance and let cool. The result is the PG-13 thriller of the week, The Cave, a movie that doesn’t so much borrow from these other movies, as blatantly rip off concepts, ideas, and even dramatic moments from classic thriller movies and then distort them so that everything that made those concepts, ideas, and moments is lost.
The Cave centers around an elite team of explorers, specialized in underwater searches. All three movies I mentioned above are built around elite groups, from military units to scavengers. However The Cave’s team is probably the most poorly organized collection of elite team in the history of thrillers, a group that would be more at home in a comedy like McHale’s Navy than a suspenseful film like this one tries to be. I honestly believe that if the head of this team shouted “Jump!” most of the group would start digging; that’s how well they follow directions.
This team is brought in to explore “the Cave”. Apparently we couldn’t come up with anything more dramatic to call “the Cave”, because it’s referred to as “the Cave” constantly in the movie’s setup, possibly to remind us we are watching The Cave instead of any of those other movies. “The Cave” is a newly discovered cavern that extends for miles underground, complete with an underground body of water. There is some mythology that surrounds the cave, something about flying skeletons of death that is never really explained other than setting up the film’s creatures. What also isn’t really explained is why this cave is of so much interest. The film’s prelude features a group of Romanians who are specifically seeking out “the Cave”, but the film never establishes why either group is seeking it out, or maybe it does but looses that dialog amidst other mumbled patter.
As you’d expect from Alien, The Abyss, or Predator, something goes “wrong”. It turns out the cave has its own ecosystem, something the invading elite have now disturbed. This really shouldn’t be that surprising, after all the team is accompanied by several scientists who came prepared to study the biology of the cave. What did they think they’d find in a new environment like this, mushrooms and harmless kitty-cats? Soon the team of explorers find themselves the new prey of the inhabitants of “the Cave”, and in search of a way out. This means each scene leads to the cave’s creatures terrorizing the team in some new way, looking down at the team with their sonar-vision (instead of Predator’s thermal vision) and eventually killing one of the extremely expendable, yet highly trained, elite who failed to listen to the prophetic instructions of the group’s leader. When the movie starts to realize it has more characters to kill than new ways to kill them, it has the characters take the next logical step: splitting up in the hopes of improving their chances of finding a way out.
There are many things you can expect from a movie set in an unexplored cave. For instance, you’d expect the atmosphere to be dark and dreary, something the movie does accomplish. However there are times when there is a surprising amount of light available, and the dark never manages to penetrate the pretty-faced cast with any sort of shadow. You’d also expect the movie to be quite claustrophobic as the characters make their way through unknown passages and caverns. Unfortunately the film never accomplishes that part of setting the mood. No matter where the characters go, there always seems to be enough space to move around, and despite the cave being unknown to them, any time a character needs to double back they not only are able to easily find the path they originally took, but also short cuts and adjoining passages they’ve never been down that lead the right direction as well. The result is a movie that looses any sort of suspense from the environment because it never really puts the characters in any sort of danger. They will always have room and be able to find their way. But having space doesn’t always have to mean the opposite of feeling closed in. Last year’s Open Water with its vast desert of water accomplished a more claustrophobic feeling.
Where the movie really becomes a catastrophic failure is with its overbearing score and cinematography. As the movie establishes any situation the camerawork is bland, making sure to show off how buff the model-quality cast members are. Then the second any sort of action occurs the soundtrack jumps into high gear overwhelming the film to help distract from the fact that the camerawork was just taken over by an epileptic monkey having a seizure. The camera jiggles and wiggles, cutting every two seconds to offer as many different vantage points on the action as possible. The result is a complete loss of any sort of perspective or understanding of what’s going on. I honestly couldn’t tell you half of what happens in the film’s climactic battle between the remaining members of the elite and the creatures due to the camerawork, but thanks to the music I know it was dramatic action in overdrive.
Director Bruce Hunt previously acted as second and third unit director for dark sci-fi films like Dark City and The Matrix films. This movie proves he learned nothing from those experiences. The Cave is completely lacking any sort of mystery, a must-have for a thrilling film. Hunt should go back to his second and third units, working under other directors who have learned to appreciate classics like Alien and don’t feel the need to rip off movie moments that have already been done to perfection. The Cave only succeeds in being a horrific failure.