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Dustin Putman

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The Cave (2005)
Zero Stars

Directed by Bruce Hunt
Cast: Eddie Cibrian, Cole Hauser, Lena Headey, Morris Chestnut, Piper Perabo, Rick Ravanello, Marcel Iures, Daniel Dae Kim, Kieran Darcy-Smith.
2005 – 97 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for creature violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 25, 2005.

From the performances to the writing to the cinematography to the special effects, "The Cave" is a rickety, ramshackle junk heap of a monster movie, the type that wouldn't even pass muster with die-hard viewers of the Sci-Fi Channel. Bloodless, scareless, eventless, and nearly violence-free, the film is a PG-13 kiddie movie posing as a horrific creature feature, and a shoddy, cheap-looking one at that. That it is finally seeing release on the final weekend of August (well-known to be a studio dumping ground for such quality-deficient fare) comes as no surprise. How it got so far as to see the inside of multiplexes nationwide, however, is one of this year's most perplexing cinematic mysteries.

The plot, for what it's worth, is nothing new. A gaggle of explorers and scientists enter a huge underground maze of caves in the Carpathian mountains where, twenty years earlier, several men supposedly met their deaths after falling rocks trapped them inside. At first amazed by the size of the caverns and the complexity with which its animal population has lived and evolved below the surface for thousands of years, the spelunkers soon become the potential prey of nasty winged serpents that are part man, part parasite. In a turn of events that goes nowhere, Jack (Cole Hauser) begins to slowly transform into one of the monsters after being bitten. Now, with one of their own going mad and the rest of the creatures circling in, Tyler (Eddie Cibrian), Buchanan (Morris Chestnut), Charlie (Piper Perabo), Katherine (Lena Headey), and the rest of the paper-thin characters vaguely resembling human beings desperately attempt to find an escape route to the outside world.

Without even a rudimentary understanding of how to create tension, director Bruce Hunt's filmmaking style is to start things off slowly, mosey through a second act that remains slow, and then ends with one of the most lethargic, lackluster anticlimaxes of any movie this year. Eliciting sheer boredom from the viewer, it turns out, is the least of its problems. No doubt the victim of technical ineptitude as well as the restraints of a PG-13 rating no horror film about murderous beasts in a cave should have the disservice of aiming for, the editing by Brian Berdan (2004's "The Big Bounce") appears to have been cut together with an out-of-control chainsaw. So choppy is it that what unfolds on the screen is downright incomprehensible, with characters ending up dead before the viewer realizes they've been watching a killing scene. To make matters worse, the cinematography by Ross Emery is so undistinguished and dark that it's difficult to make much of anything out. Depending on who you talk to, this could be a detriment or the sole saving grace of the picture.

As for the creatures, rejects from 1982's cult classic, "Q," and 2000's "Pitch Black," the fleeting glimpses of them are keenly unfocused to try and hide the low budget. They, as well as the rest of the visual effects, are laughably piss-poor, reminding of a cheesy '70s B-movie that would be heckled on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." All that is missing are the strings (alas, fake matte shots do make an appearance in the unthinkably terrible opening scene's rock slide). Mostly, though, the actors simply give pained reaction shots and run when the creatures are near without director Bruce Hunt allowing us to see what it is they are frightened by. When they aren't doing that, they are wandering around without a clue as to what they should do.

Many of the performers are up-and-comers—Cole Hauser (2004's "Paparazzi"), Piper Perabo (2000's "Coyote Ugly"), Lena Headey (2000's "Gossip"), Morris Chestnut (2004's "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid"), etc.—though one must question just how up-and-coming they really are to have resorted to such a ham-fisted, thankless production in order to pay the rent. None walk away from the wreckage unscathed, and most act as if this were the first time they've been put in front of a camera. The height of intelligent dialogue finds Headey's Katherine observing that a parasite is "ubiquitous."

And then comes the ending, or what passes as one. "The Cave" lurches along so deliberately for the first eighty minutes that, one understandably figures, it is all leading up to an exciting, action-laden finale. Not here. The film simply decides it is over, throws in a ridiculous "surprise" development in the last scene to rapturous audience snickering, and then cuts to end credits. The actual defeat of the creatures doesn't play like an afterthought so much as it feels in retrospect like it never occurred. The whole of the film is, indeed, that empty and forgettable.

How does irredeemable, talent-deficient garbage like "The Cave" ever get greenlit and made in Hollywood? An amalgamation of bad ideas and worse delivery, the film is so inadequate that it can't even deliver a payoff, let alone the basic things one expects from a monster movie, like suspense, fear, ripped body parts, and slime. If there were any inevitable jump scares, even they were so ineffective as to not call attention to themselves. Easily one of the biggest monumental wastes of time to be had in the theater all year, "The Cave" marks the bottom of the barrel of a genre that doesn't require much to begin with. Although proper moviegoing etiquette should usually be abided, this is one case in which lobbing tubs of popcorn and soda at the screen in a riot of audience defiance is a fully warranted option. Apparently made for no one—the target audience of teenage and twenty-something males certainly won't get what they came for—"The Cave" represents cinematic pain at its most mindnumbing and depressing. A turd held up to the flickering bulb of the projector would be a marked improvement.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman