Dir:Bruce Hunt. US. 2005. 96mins.
US-backedbut utilising international above- and below-the-line talent and locations, TheCave is an efficient yet routine horror thriller with what would normallyseem like a novel underground exploration setting. Unfortunately, the settingis shared with recent British caving chiller The Descent - so in theinternational marketplace at least, The Cave's commercial fortunes willdepend to some extent on the level of direct competition in individualterritories from its so far well-received UK rival.
TheCave hitsscreens first in the US on Aug 26, with Screen Gems giving the LakeshoreEntertainment production a wide release - with a PG-13 rating - this weekend(Lion's Gate has bought US rights to The Descent).
Younger,mostly male genre fans will provide an opening weekend audience, but the mid-levelcast and relatively tame monster action could make it difficult for The Caveto do much more theatrically than set up what should be a decent DVD run.
Outsidethe US, the involvement, in his feature debut, of Australia-based commercialsdirector Bruce Hunt should spark some extra interest Down Under. And theinclusion in the cast of British, Australian and Romanian actors might addmarketing leverage for some of the independents distributors that have acquiredthe film from Lakeshore.
Butin territories - like the UK - where it has to follow The Descent intocinemas, The Cave may find it difficult to come up with significantbox-office returns.
Thevast cavern of the title is discovered, in the film's prelude, under a ruinedabbey in the forests of Romania. Believing the cave could contain anundiscovered eco-system, local biologists hire a group of professional Americanexplorers to investigate what one of them describes as 'the Amazon ofunderground rivers.'
Thecave divers are a typically thrill-seeking, good-looking and multi-ethnicbunch. No-nonsense Jack (Hauser, from 2 Fast 2 Furious) leads a teamthat includes his gung-ho brother Tyler (Cibrian, from TV's Third Watch), thecapable Top Buchanan (Chestnut, from Ladder 49), tough female caver Charlie(Perabo, from Coyote Ugly), biologist Dr Kathryn Jennings (UK TV andmovie regular Headey) and local scientist Dr Nicolai (Romanian veteran Iures).
Thescript, by writer/director Michael Steinberg (The Waterdance) and actorturned scribe Tegan West, sets up some potential conflicts - and a bit ofpotential romance - between the team members. But the film moves quickly intoaction mode as the cavers go deeper underground and discover mysterious signsof human and animal life.
Huntbrings the film's creatures out slowly, first confronting the cavers withstrange mole and scorpion-like animals and only later giving glimpses of thereal villains: Alien-like cave dwellers that are blind but can swim and fly anduse echo-sounding to locate prey.
Asthe team hunts for a way out of the system and salvation from the monsters, thefilm takes in rock climbing and scuba diving scenes as well as more traditionalcaving action. The underground settings - shot in a Bucharest studio as well asreal Mexican caves - provide some interesting backdrops for the action but thefilm doesn't take full advantage of the claustrophobia-inducing chambers andtunnels. When the action heats up, the setting turns confrontations betweencavers and creatures into a blur of claws and wetsuits.
Inclassic genre tradition, the monsters get more than their claws into one of thehuman characters and the infection adds some extra tension to the story'slatter stages. In a coda to the main story, the same device is used, perhapsoptimistically, to open the door for a sequel.
Pier Luigi Basile
Daniel Dae Kim