Has there ever been a more non-suitable name for a studio than Screen Gems? If your studio name implies that the movie you are unleashing onto the world is a "gem", then you've got a lot to live up to even before the logo has left the screen. But, alas, Screen Gems does not want to live up to its name. The studio (owned by Sony) is content to clog the cineplexes with countless schlocky horror films and dumb comedies, which seems to be what they gravitate toward. I'm sorry, but if you have both of the Resident Evil movies under your belt, you don't deserve to call yourself "Screen Gems".
The Cave is the latest to continue in this tradition of suck that makes me snicker everytime the studio logo appears on the screen. It's main offense is not so much that it is bad (and it definitely is), but rather that it is the most mind-numbingly boring excuse for a "thriller" I've seen in quite a while. It is a repetitive, emotionless, and dippy slog through all too familiar "trapped in a dark place with monsters" material. It does very little to make its reasons for belonging on the big screen clear to the audience. In fact, more than once I thought this film would be right at home on the Sci-Fi channel, which I'm sure is where it will enjoy a long life in about 3 years or so. The poster's tagline oh so ominously states, "There are places man was never meant to go". Yeah, well there are films man was never meant to put on the screen, but that didn't exactly stop first-time director Bruce Hunt, now did it?
The film opens with the pre-requisite ominous prologue hinting at the doom to come for our heroes. Some nameless explorers uncover a vast underground cave system located underneath an abandoned church up in the Carpathian mountains. Something goes wrong, and the men are burried alive by very fake looking boulders that come tumbling down, blocking the only way out. As the men survey their doomed situation, they hear a strange chirping sound from somewhere off in the distance. They go to investigate, and the movie fades out, not even giving us the luxury of seeing them meet their fates at the hand of their own curiosity.
Flash forward to the present day, and a new team of explorers and scientists have cleared away the rockslide rubble, and discovered the vast cave system beyond. I know they had names, but I'll be damned if I can remember them, as everyone in this movie is characterized so paper thin you'd probably get a paper cut if you touched them. But, we seem to get the usual cliched suspects for this kind of film. There's the rugged leader, the rebel, the joker, the black guy, the Asian guy, the smart girl, the tomboy tough girl, the brilliant scientist with the accent...They all begin to explore the massive tunnels that seem to stretch for miles below the surface. Of course, they are not alone, as they begin to hear the same strange parakeet-like chirping sound during their exploration. Seems these caves are filled with bizarre parasitic creatures that come in two forms - fake looking rubber eel-like creatures, and fake looking winged monstrosities that resemble the creatures from the Alien movies more than just a little. The rugged leader of the group is bitten by one of the creatures, and begins to gain their abilitities of super hearing and senses. The group is picked off one by one, and they become increasingly suspicious of their increasingly mutating leader.
That's pretty much the entire gist of The Cave in about 3 minutes. It's a lot better than sitting through the film's entire 100 minutes, which seem to stretch on for 1,000 due to the overly leisurely nature of the plotting and scripting. For a thriller about people trapped underground with demonic monsters, these people never exactly seem quite as paniced or scared as they should be. Even when they are faced with the corpse of a loved one, they simply gasp, or put their hand over their mouths, then walk away to be slaughtered by the next available cave critter. The movie does not have a single thought or idea in its head, it simply wishes it could be Alien, or maybe even settle for Pitch Black. This movie is kind of like a pathetically geeky kid trying desperately to imitate the cool kid, and failing so miserably you just want to kick his ass for even trying.
It almost seems as if director Bruce Hunt knew audiences would not want to watch his movie, as he embraces the darkness of his cavernous settings, making most of the movie very hard to see. The action sequences don't hold up much better, as the camera suddenly goes into an epileptic fit whenever a monster strikes. We hear screaming, and we see fleeting glimpses of a person's face, or the open jaws of a monster, but the camera is spinning and shaking around so violently that for all we know, we could be watching Martha Stewart showing us how to make brownies. Perhaps the film's PG-13 rating is to blame. This certainly does feel like a watered down R film, as there are a number of "cover ups" for profanity that sounds like they were added at the last minute. The movie seems to be afraid to even show us a fleeting glimpse of excitement or danger, since the camera always goes out of control whenever something happens, so we pretty much end up watching only characters we don't care about poking around in dark tunnels for what seems like hours on end.
This is a pretty stupid movie, and it'd be almost unbearable if it weren't for some unintentionally hilarious moments. The first time the leader of the expedition begins to lose control of himself as the parasitic bite begins to mutate him, it looks more like he is jacking off or having an orgasm instead of fighting back a parasitic alien. The characters use a "soundwave gun" to battle the creatures, since they are highly sensitive to sound. The funny thing is, the sound this device makes looks like it came out of a 30s Flash Gordon serial. I'm serious, you could have a 6 year old make laser gun sound effects into a tape recorder, and get a better sound effect than the filmmakers did. Oh, and wait until you see the film's "surprise ending" which actually seems to hint at a sequel. I don't know what's funnier, that the filmmakers had the audacity to pull off the ending they did, or that they actually thought they'd get a chance to do another one.
The Cave really leaves me mystified as to how anyone thought this deserved the big screen treatment. This is straight to video or straight to Sci-Fi Channel calibur filmmaking, and it makes no effort whatsoever to hide its intentions. It's about as thrilling as a trip to your mailbox, as meaningful as banging your head against a wall, and about as original as putting butter or jelly on toast. The makers of The Cave should be glad that there has been much worse films so far this year. If this movie had come out in a much better year for films, I may not have been as kind.
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