MAY 20, 2008
What the fuck is the point of a movie like The Cave going into theaters? It offers absolutely nothing that the weekly Sci-Fi original movies doesn’t provide for free (hell, I’d even argue that the SCOs are gorier – more on that later), unless you live in some sort of alternate universe where Eddie Cibrian and Cole Hauser are big stars, beyond what Sci-Fi can offer. But yet, shocking as it may seem, The Cave actually opened in theaters in August 2005, against films like Four Brothers and 40 Year Old Virgin. The fact that it even made 14 million is pretty surprising. I suspect it may have even been meant for TV, as there at least four fade to black moments in the movie after a big revelation or (lame) death of a character, the perfect place to stick ads for Battlestar’s next episode and maybe a car or two.
The only thing a theatrical release can offer that Sci-Fi cannot (at least, when it comes to generic “Monster in the water” movies like this) is R rated violence, profanity, and maybe even nudity. The PG-13 Cave offers none of these things. Gore? Half of the deaths are offscreen entirely, and the only blood is seen on minor wounds. Even SCOs offer one or two reasonably graphic kills per movie. Nudity? Well, I wasn’t really expecting any, but no. Profanity? Cole Hauser’s big final line to the monster is “Come on mother f.” Not “F-“, as if they cut away before he could finish. No, he actually just says “F.”, and the shot lingers on him for another second as if to reassure us that he’s not actually daring to swear.
Now, I’ve said more than once (twice) that PG-13 is not an automatic kiss of death for a horror film – Spiral, The Ring, Poltergeist, etc. all manage chills without resorting to these sort of things (and more importantly, never feel like they are MISSING them either). But for a movie like The Cave, which is about allegedly vicious sea monsters tearing people apart, who the fuck wants a PG-13 version of that? Go all out and offer the audience (who are likely just looking to escape from the heat for 97 minutes in August) the occasional visceral thrill.
See, without gore or anything, all the movie offers is the same old “team of folks run afoul of SOMETHING in the _____” (jungle, water, mountains, desert... take your pick!) monster movie. The closest it gets to doing anything original is instead of having a corporate team member who sells the team out to save his own ass, we have Cole Hauser slowly becoming one of the monsters (he gets stung by one early on). And thankfully, this doesn’t result in a finale in which Hauser stalks his own friends, but instead he uses his newfound insight into their world to help his friends escape (albeit with the occasional violent outburst).
Everyone else is standard monster movie fodder, and the only suspense stems from the fact that whoever built the opening credits put them in a weird order that doesn’t reflect either the actor’s ‘starpower’ or their amount of screen time. For example, Daniel Dae Kim, who at this point was one of the stars of the biggest show on TV, is billed after a few no-name actors, even though his character survives longer than any of them anyway. In fact, the movie takes its sweet ass time killing folks off (again, the only reason we are watching), with more than half of them still alive with only 15 minutes to go.
The survival elements are rather weak too - I never once really felt they were trapped or in danger from anything but the monsters, despite a few attempts to make you feel otherwise. Granted, seeing The Descent sort of ruins whatever little a movie like this could achieve, but still. There's more claustrophobic feeling in any one second of Marshall's film than there is in the entirety of this (and, given the PG-13ity of it all, you'd think they'd try to play up the survival elements to earn the suspense/scares).
Botching things even more is director Bruce Hunt, DP Ross Emery, and editor Brian Berdan’s mutual insistence on making the action scenes as incomprehensible as possible. I am a defender of the three Bs of confusing camerawork (Bourne, Blair Witch, and Bay), and even I had no idea what the fuck was happening during certain scenes. At one point, Eddie Cibrian and Lena Headey are about to travel down a current. She gets stuck, and he cannot fight the current in order to help her. So he is whisked away while she screams “Noooo help!” and things of that nature. 300 closeup shots and 12 seconds later, Cibrian is at the end of the current, he sees a monster or something, and then viola! Headey is right next to him. What the fuck?
And while the image is fine (and to be fair, the special effects are generally quite good), the sound is also pretty lackluster. The surrounds have a lot of use, but the overall level of sound keeps dropping down at times (I checked my system with other movies and it seemed fine), and there is almost zero bass on the track (something other reviews have mentioned, though the level problem may be unique to my copy?). It’s really odd when a large rush of water is shown on screen and your subwoofer is barely making a whimper.
The extras are actually decent, strangely enough. One is about the technical advisors, who cave dive for a living. The two of them are far more interesting than anyone in the movie. The other is about Patrick Tatopoulos’ (part of why I wanted to see this movie is the inordinate number of crew who worked on Dark City, one of my all time favorite films) creature designs, which are pretty decent and wasted in this film. There are two commentary tracks as well, but I have a feeling that they won’t quite be worth my while.
What say you?