The Cave probably did not get enough love when released, as unfortunately, it was released at the same time as Descent. Descent is clearly the superior film, but The Cave is still enjoyable and should not be dismissed. I would liken the feel of this movie to that of Pitch Black, but set underground. Unfortunately, it does fall down the common horror pitfalls of stupid characters and inscrutable actions. But if you can switch off your brain and enjoy the ride, it becomes fairly enjoyable for the most part.
The Cave follows a group of scientist divers, who are exploring a new cave that has been recently discovered in Romania. Relishing the prospect of exploring an ecosystem that has never been touched, they are eager to explore all of it. Unfortunately for them, alongside the weird and exotic aquatic life, is a hostile life form that does not like to be disturbed. As they go deeper inside the cave, unfortunate events trap them inside, and they must venture deeper into the caverns to find an escape route.
Unfortunately you won’t find a lot of character development in this. They are all assigned their roles whether it’s the impatient leader, the muscle or the eye candy, and they don’t stray far from these clichés at all. I could not in all good conscience say that the dialogue is exactly great, but it is not terrible either, with a script that holds up whilst not having any ambition beyond the aforementioned clichés. This is regrettably reflected in some of the odd choices that make to survive, such as splitting the group up – only to reunite later with some more people dead – which all happens due to their bickering amongst themselves. But for a horror film, these kinda dumb decisions are used a lot, so I am not going to hold that against the writers too much.
One thing that The Cave does really well, is showing the underground caverns with lots of atmospheric lighting to really give that spooky effect. It is very reminiscent of Bruce Hunt’s other films, such as The Matrix and Dark City, where he was the assistant director. Though The Cave is his first and only time as the lead and sole director, sadly, as it would be nice to see how much more he could make of his atmospheric style with full control over a movie. It is almost a shame that the focus is on the monsters, rather than the gorgeous backdrop. Perhaps if this had just been a cave exploration that had left them trapped – without the monsters, it might be looked on more favourably and would probably have had a stronger storyline.
The monsters are unfortunately its weakest part, as they are highly derivative of monster designs such as Alien, as if they created an amalgamation of all the popular monsters from the last 30 years. So while the monsters are hidden, it is a lot more intense and scary, but once we see them, it is a bit of a let down. I am glad they didn’t shy away from showing the monsters, but a more original design would have helped to not detract from the horror. This I find quite shocking after looking at Patrick Tatopoulos’ monster design work on other films, seems like he really dropped the ball in The Cave. Considering they had a much higher budget than The Descent, it seems odd that the creatures are such a let-down. And unlike The Descent which happened to use lack of lighting to their advantage to enhance the monsters, this was not a consideration in The Cave. In fact, they seem to rely more on jerky and fast camera editing, to hide the monsters as much as they can.
The Cave does have a little surprise near the end, regarding the main protagonist and the monsters, but they never seem to really capitalize on it. Though there is meant to be an urgency to this later development, it feels like none of the characters really care that much either way. Plus, they make it so obvious what the ending is going to be, I am not sure whether I would have cared whatever the ending had been. It kinda felt like this new twist was just ham-fisted at the end, a last-ditch effort to give it more spice, but they had never really laid any of the groundwork to set it up. It is clear that they wanted something more to come out of this film – probably a sequel – but I always think that a film should be good enough in itself.
Nevertheless, though I have been critical, I would say this is still an enjoyable film. It is not a creature feature classic by any means, but it is still a fun horror film. Just don’t expect any dizzying heights to be reached. If anything, I would recommend this just for the scenery in The Cave.