There are so many ways for a film to join the ranks of bad cinema. THE CAVE is daring in doing so in that it isn’t just tedious, it isn’t just silly, no, it goes the distance until it actually becomes a personal affront to the sensibilities of everyone concerned.
The first misstep was in setting 90 percent of the story in the eponymous cave. It’s dark, and while the flares and flashlights that barely illuminate the scenes could have been used to better effect, what with the nasty, needle-toothed things that are scurrying and swimming hither and yon, every opportunity to do so was missed. The feeling is more like stumbling around in the dark looking for a light switch in the living room than a life-and-death struggle in the gloom. Irritating, sure, when a toe is stubbed, but terrifying? No.
The cave in question is in Carpathia, where Dracula looms and superstition abounds. To be specific, it’s under a church, where Templars from long ago, we never do get the whole story, tangled with something unholy and sealed the opening so that the unholiness would stay put. Or so that silly people above ground would stay out. Of course, silly people just can’t wait to unseal things and so it is that treasure hunters fall prey to a poor choice of unsealing methods involving explosives, and later on biologists, who fall prey to the lure of unknown species to be discovered in the watery wastes below and then named after themselves. The biologists (avuncular Marcel Iures and chic Lena Headey) at least have the common sense to realize that the lake and the river running out of it require the assistance of specialists in the person of Jack (Cole Hauser) and his crack team of diving spelunkers. They’re all pretty much interchangeable in their macho-ness, except for Charley (Piper Perabo), whose role is that of being the macha babe in the bikini. The lake is deep, the river is 90 miles long and the crack team has a breathing apparatus that lets them stay submerged for 24 hours at a time. The issue of the ancillary pruneness is never addressed.
There’s much that’s never addressed in this flick. The team is picked off one by one and it takes several such pickings before anyone gets really scared, as in there might be something out there that’s more than just a dark-adapted mole or really big eel. The scenes are interchangeable with only the steady decrease in actors to provide a timeline of any kind. There’s fire, there’s ice, a gulp of air, and then, as abruptly as it all began, it’s over, with the annoying twist that reveals dreams of a franchise for the misguided people in charge.
As for the things that go bump in the perpetual dark, it’s a very long time before the camera gets a good look at them. Usually, this is done to take advantage of the innate fear of the unknown most people carry with them, as well as to avoid peaking too soon as far as surprises. In this case, something else was at work. When the things are revealed, they look like nothing so much as a construct of chicken wire, crepe paper, the whole liberally doused with special effects goo. It is a testament to the actors that they manage to look scared. Except, that is, for Hauser, whose character become progressively more squirrelly as things go on, and who approaches the transformation by becoming robotic, sporting a glazed look that would do Krispy Kreme proud.
THE CAVE, like its namesake, is a dank, stagnant, and murky thing. As such it tests the mettle of not just the characters who suffer and sometimes die in unpleasant ways onscreen, but also of its audience, most of whom at the preview screening I attended coped with this drear exercise in ineptitude by hurling insults at the proceedings and dissolving into healing, and all too appropriate, gales of laughter.