Monday, January 29, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: The Cave (2005)

Do you remember those funny signs at amusement parks that are perched at the entrances of the roller coasters? They show a little clown or other figure of fun, and note that if you are as tall as he is, you can ride the roller coaster. Yippee!

If you're not tall enough, it's back to the kiddie rides for you. Enjoy the teacups, all right?

For whatever reason, I was reminded of that all-important sign while I watched the generally atrocious subterranean horror movie, The Cave. I'll be blunt. If you're tall enough, if you can endure it, rent The Descent instead. It's my choice for the best horror film of 2006, and it will scare you to your horror-movie-loving core.

The Cave? Well, it's the equivalent of the kiddie ride version of The Descent.

This movie, directed by Bruce Hunt, begins in the Carpathian Mountains thirty years ago, as a team of thieves uncover a secret Templar church. All the iconography in the church, from the gargoyles to the relief on the tiled floor, show strange winged demons. You think this might be a warning to the interlopers. But it isn't.

Anyway, there's a CGI avalanche, and the thieves fall deep into a cave beneath the earth...

Flash forward to "now," as a team of generic, off-the-shelf characters embark on an expedition to explore a heretofore "virgin" underwater cave under the same Carpathian Mountains. We get a "lady scientist" (as they were once called, in 1970s movies...), some multi-ethnic cannon fodder, the helpful, loyal tough-guy African-American - here named Top - and two hunky brothers (Cole Hauser and Invasion's Eddie Cibrian...) who have some sort of deep sibling rivalry. That's so when they're not underwater, they have something to talk about.

The first several minutes of The Cave linger on exposition. I have to admit, I learned a lot. Do you know how many cave divers per year end up dead? One in fourteen. Do you know how long you can stay submerged with the film's high-tech re-breathers? Twenty-four hours. If this is sort of material is your cup of tea, you may just love The Cave.

If not, just settle in and let the wave of crap wash over you. A fun game to play while you're waiting for the next murder is to think about what movie The Cave is currently stealing from. There are a series of monster P.O.V. shots that are reminiscent of Predator (1987), but most dramatically, this film cribs the plot and characters of Pitch Black (2000). Now, Cole Hauser also starred in Pitch Black (as a strung-out junkie space marshal...) but he plays the tough-guy Vin Diesel/Riddick role here. He even gets "special vision" (like Riddick) while fighting the monsters, and protecting his team.

In a movie where the heroes are 2.4 miles inside a mountain, and one mile deep within the Earth, you'd think there might be some claustrophobia and tension (like in, say, The Descent...), but there's surprisingly little of that. The film is rated PG-13 for "intense creature violence," but there's not much intense anything here. I did get a case of the creepy-crawlies in one scene involving a cavern filled with scorpions. Grossly, they're crawling around at eye-level. Ick.

In The Cave, you end up seeing some nice aerial photography over the mountains, and there's some good, well-photographed sequences in the "closed" eco-system where a "primeval" life form thrives, but going back to my amusement park metaphor, the film is like a walking tour of the old Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Now you're on the rapids, now you're underwater, now you're on a mountainside, now you're on an ice shelf, and now you're in Hell. Movie hell, that is. Particularly after one of the most seriously wrong-headed and insulting final sting-in-the-tale/tail moments I've ever had the misfortune to watch.

There are so many diverse environments on display in The Cave it's more a geologic travelogue than a horror movie. And I had to ask myself: how do these people keep finding their way back to each other after they separate? It just never seems particularly plausible. The cave divers, perhaps (except that 1 in 14...), but the scientists and documentary filmmakers? How do they find their way around down there, in the dark, with swooping parasitic dragons picking them off?

I know this isn't nice, but I was rooting for the swooping parasitic dragons...


  1. Anonymous11:42 AM

    The Descent was the ebst horror movie of 2006??? Muir, I continue to lose faith in your tastes. The Descent is the 2006 version of The Blair Witch Project. Remember how "scary" everyone claimed that was? It was only scary if the idea of being lost in the woods scares you. The Descent is only scary if you are frightened by being trapped in a dark place like a cave. I hated all of the characters and thought they all deserved to die. The sad part is, I like to have a cool killer to off the characters but instead this movie gave us pasty white cave monsters. Yawn! They should have called this movie "Chicks in a Cave" sort of like "Snakes on a Plane." I wouldn't watch The Descent again if it was the last movie on Earth. And this is coming from a hardcore horror movie fan.

    I can think of a few horror movies last year that blew this piece of junk away. Take a look at Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning if you want to see a well crafted horror film. My feelings on it are very similar to Harry Knowles review. As far as remakes, both the remake of The Omen and The Hills Have Eyes beat out The Descent in 2006.

    Chris Johnson

  2. Ah, Chris..

    Ye of little faith... :)

    Here's another argumentative nugget for you, bud: I think The Blair Witch Project is not only a great horror movie; but the BEST American horror movie of the 1990s. Hah!

    And, I remain proudly in the pro-DESCENT camp.

    I guess we agree proudly on Star Trek, Alien 3 and The Matrix, but you are anti-Serenity and anti-The Descent, which puts some distance between our views.

    Shall we arm wrestle over it?

    love ya!

  3. Anonymous7:48 AM

    Flag on the play Muir!!!!!

    If you are going to seriously claim that The Blair Witch Project was not only a good movie, but the best horror film of the 90's then an arm wrestling match ain't gonna cut it! We will need to have a Hell in a Cell match with Iron Man match stipulations!

    Prepare to dance John Muir . . . and YES, it will be a slow jam!!!!

    Chris Johnson

  4. All right, Johnson.

    You got served! It's ON!!!

    Cue the ROCKY theme song. I'm offially in training for our "Hell in a Cell" match!

    Get ready for a Muir smackdown...

    Just kidding, of course. I always respect your views (and the way you debate them).

    Even when you're dead wrong. As you are here :)


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