Director – Bruce Hunt, Screenplay – Michael Steinberg & Tegan West, Producers – Gary Lucchesi, Andrew Mason, Michael Ohoven, Tom Rosenberg & Richard Wright, Photography – Ross Emery, Underwater Photography – Wes Skiles, Music – Reinhold Heil & Johnny Klimek, Visual Effects Supervisors – Gary Beach & James McQuaide, Visual Effects – Luma Pictures (Supervisor – Payam Shohadai), Special Effects Supervisor – Nick Allder, Creature/Makeup Effects – Patrick Tatopoulos Designs, Inc. (Supervisor – Patrick Tatopoulos), Production Design – Pier Luigi Basile. Production Company – Lakeshore Entertainment/City Productions/Cineblue Internationale Filmproduktionsgesellschaft GmbH & Co. 1. Beteilgungs-KG
Cole Hauser (Jack McAlister), Eddie Cibrian (Tyler McAlister), Lena Headey (Dr Kathryn Jennings), Morris Chestnut (Top Buchanan), Piper Perabo (Charlie), Marcel Iures (Dr Nicolai), Rick Ravanello (Briggs), Daniel Dae Kim (Alex Kim), Kieran Darcy-Smith (Strode)
A team of expert divers and potholers headed by Jack McAlister are brought in to explore a vast network of underground caves that has been discovered in Romania. The team set out, venturing one mile down into the cave complex and then three miles along horizontally. As the expedition becomes plagued by accidents, they realise that they are being hunted by a breed of creatures that can see in the dark. The creatures also leave behind a parasite that genetically transforms human bodies into their own kind. Gradually, the group start to realise that Jack has been infected by the parasite and that his leadership has become unsound.
2005 offered a mini fad of monster movies about potholers encountering creatures underground. These included The Cave, Neil Marshall’s grippingly good The Descent (2005) and The Cavern/Within (2005), as well as to some extent the fine Creep (2004), which was set in the London Underground. The Cave was made with a $30 million budget and given a major theatrical release, although only earned a paltry $6.5 million in its opening weekend. The very low-budget The Cavern/Within and Caved In (2006) went directly to dvd. The surprise among these was The Descent, which was made with only a $3.5 million budget but ended up gaining enough word of mouth that it became a major international release.
The Cave was the feature film debut of the Australian Bruce Hunt who previously worked as a commercials director and directed second-unit on The Matrix (1999) and sequels. (He has yet to direct another film). The script was a collaboration between actor Tegan West and Michael Steinberg who had previously been a director with the quite good The Waterdance (1992) and the thriller Wicked (1998), as well as producer of the Farrelly Brothers There’s Something About Mary (1998). The film was shot on location in an extensive real-world cavern complex in Romania.
It is interesting to compare The Cave to the much more successful The Descent. The two have almost identical stories about a potholing party being stalked by creatures that can see in the dark. Like The Descent, The Cave also has a plot element where the party is dependent on a leader who has gone off the rails and is starting to demonstrate flawed judgement. Where Neil Marshall built The Descent around a tight ensemble of women characters, The Cave by contrast seems built around pumped-up machismo – its focus is as much on the adventure sports side of the film (the potholing, the diving, the abseiling and rock-climbing scenes) as it is the monsters. The Descent featured an all-woman cast but managed to eschew any opportunities for titillation; by contrast, The Cave casts the film with mostly male actors that have been chosen for their handsome good looks.
I never had the opportunity to see The Cave in theatrical release and was forced to watch it on DVD. Viewing the film on the big screen would have been an undeniably impressive experience – the camera makes full use of the caverns and there are some superbly photographed scenes of the divers exploring their depths by torchlight. The film also seems to go to great lengths to make the use of equipment used by the party seem authentic.
The Cave makes good use of the Creatures Lurking in the Dark monster movie formula as patented by Alien (1979). Indeed, The Cave is no more than an Alien-styled monster movie with a novelty setting (a network of underground caverns). Within the basics of the formula, director Bruce Hunt creates some reasonable suspense and a number of surprise jolts. There are some fine sequences with the traversal of the rapids; an unnerving sequence where the party is gathered in the water in the midst of a large cavern as something stalks them from beneath the water; and a particularly good sequence where Piper Perabo scales a cliff face and a monster comes after her, causing her to fall some fifty feet and be left hanging on the end of her rope and then having to run along the vertical cliff face on the rope as the creature comes after her again. There is a somewhat ridiculous climax with Cole Hauser diving off rocks to take on one of the creatures hand-to-hand in mid-air. As with most of these Alien copies, we are only ever given brief glimpses of the monsters.
The producers have deliberately chosen a cast of relatively unknown actors. The roles they are placed in are generic and without any depth. That said, most of the cast fill the parts competently. Cole Hauser is never the most expressive of actors but fills his part with a quiet strength. The two best in the cast are Lena Headey, several years before Game of Thrones (2011-9), and Morris Chestnut, both highly underrated actors who seem eminently in need of decent vehicles that can allow them to flex their strengths. There is also a minor part from Daniel Dae Kim, the Korean husband from tv’s Lost (2004-10). This is a surprise to anyone who has followed Lost – so used did one become to seeing Daniel Dae Kim speaking only Korean there that it is an abrupt jolt to see him speaking perfect English.
Unfortunately, The Cave is a film where the journey there is far more interesting than the eventual arrival. Though the film throws in interesting ideas about the creatures being mutated humans, this idea goes nowhere. (Mindedly, The Descent did not do a huge amount to explain itself either and has a very generic description when boiled down to a pure plot description). All that is eventually unveiled is a well-worn deck of cards – a film that consists of a series of action set-pieces, a standard Alien-copied creature and a perpetually hyped dramatic score. Indeed, the sole thing that stands The Cave above being yet another creatures in the dark film is the novelty of an interesting location.