It's late summer, and somebody's releasing a horror movie, which usually means bad, bad times at your local cinema. Oh, there are exceptions (the original Jeepers Creepers, released in August 2001, was fun), but summer's end is usually a dumping ground. When a studio thinks it has a turd, August becomes that turd's home.
The Cave, starring Cole Hauser of Paparazzi (that's a troubling sign right there), rips off such stalwarts as Alien, Predator and even the not-so-stalwart Pitch Black. It places a crew of your typical action-horror types in a very bad situation, and it's easy to figure out who is going to die, and in what order.
So it's more than a little bit surprising that the movie is almost passable, with occasionally scary stuff.
Hauser plays Jack, the leader of a diving/cave-exploring team that is summoned to Romania, where a large underground cavern has been discovered. Jack takes his crew (featuring the likes of Morris Chestnut and Piper Perabo) into the uncharted territory, unaware that a legion of winged demon creatures are hanging out down there ready to chow down.
This is actually a cool setup, and the underground caves and rivers are prime locales for dread. When the team gets trapped, and crew members start getting picked off, it seems as if The Cave might qualify as B-movie fun.
Director Bruce Hunt did some second- and third-unit directing on the Matrix trilogy and Dark City, so he's had a hand in some good-looking movies. His cinematographer, Ross Emery, worked on those same films, and The Cave benefits from his decent eye. The production had a relatively small budget of $30 million, and Hunt proves that he can do a lot with his allotted money. His movie looks better than most films with twice that budget. It's clear that his money went into sets and lavish locations.
Producers should've spent a little more on the cast and the special effects. Hauser is fine, but he's a better supporting player than lead. Perabo and Chestnut manage to stand out, but the rest of the team simply doesn't register. Lena Headey (also the female lead in The Brothers Grimm) lacks charisma, and the film suffers for it.
As Spielberg did with Jaws, Hunt waits a while before he shows us his monsters. He utilizes a combination of semi-effective CGI and old-school guys in suits to fashion something that's fairly menacing. The movie could've used more monster shots, but monster shots cost money, so Hunt does a lot of delaying and editing tricks to keep the carnage at a cost-efficient minimum.
Hunt makes a few major mistakes. Some of his action scenes are ruined by flash cutting (a scene where the divers ride through underground rapids is impossible to follow). He should've fired his scriptwriters, who provide little reason for the expedition in the first place, and fail to give the actors anything in the way of memorable dialogue.
A plot thread involving humans turning into the monsters after being infected is barely explored. Characters are given funky contact lenses to show their affliction, rather than showing any monster transformations, which would've cost more money. The PG-13 rating keeps the dread at a minimum, something Hollywood needs to stop doing. Some of the best horror films have been rated R (with the exception of Jaws, which most certainly should've been rated R). This PG-13 rated horror movie trend needs to die.
To sum it all up, Hunt and crew try to do too much with too little. His film has a good premise and a good look, and it's likely a bigger budget would've produced a better movie. To be frank, it's a monster movie that needs more monsters.