Archive for Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Cave’ rarely needs exploring

(PG-13) **

August 25, 2005

If establishing an atmospheric setting is half the battle when making a horror film, then at least "The Cave" gets that part right.

The film's visualization of massive caverns situated in Romania are both a combination of outstanding location footage and impressive production design. The setting provides some oomph to this horror tale of a stranded team of divers.

Once there, however, the film rarely goes much further than the same "monsters in the house" movies done better by classics such as "Aliens," or about the same by B movies like "Deep Rising." It's a pretty standard story of a trapped group trying to fend off slimy creatures in an unfamiliar environment.

Cole Hauser (from "Pitch Black" -- another "monsters in the house" effort) plays Jack, the leader of a veteran cave-diving unit asked to lead scientists and a documentary crew into a previously undiscovered system that runs beneath the Carpathian Mountains. When a cave-in traps the outfit underground, they realize it's futile to sit around and wait for help to come.

Jack says, "The best people to get us out are all right here. We ARE the rescue team."

But when searching for an alternate route to the surface, they start getting picked off by what biologist Katherine (Lena Headey) correctly identifies as "some kind of parasite."

And how.

There are scenes in "The Cave" where the stranded-in-water moments recall the primal paranoia of the recent "Open Water." Fledgling filmmaker Bruce Hunt (whose previous claim to fame was a second unit director on "The Matrix" trilogy) favors some effective eye-level shots of the floating divers that amplify the unseen menace lurking beneath them.

But more often than not, the project is a typical Hollywood creature feature with guy-in-a-rubber-suit monsters that are too generic to offer many scares.

It doesn't help that members of the "world's best diving team" all look like they stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. Same goes for the scientists and even the cameraman. Apparently, they represent a society in which people without steel jawlines or washboard abs can't succeed in their respective fields. The actors don't necessarily give false performances -- Hauser is always pretty decent at these things -- it's just that they physically look so unconvincing that it's hard to accept them in the roles.

The individuals also make some decisions that don't seem very intuitive. For instance, the group starts getting attacked by fanged, clawed creatures, and yet nobody tries to arm themselves. (Only one guy pulls a knife.) This is especially odd when the survivors run across a stash of medieval weapons (don't ask) and won't even consider packin' a broadsword.

Also, wouldn't monsters that developed in a completely darkened environment likely retreat from light?

Thankfully, a tricky plot device that reveals itself midway through adds a new spin to the tale and gives more internalized depth to the us-versus-them nature of the situation. It also sets up an epilogue that is rather amusing.

"The Cave" isn't really worth exploring unless the viewer is unfamiliar with the countless movies that inspired it. And the only people who've never sat through these horror standards have probably been stuck in a cave.

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