There’s this place in New Hampshire called The Polar Caves. It’s a little tourist trap that features a small cave system that winds around a chunk of granite, with ice walls, a couple of stalagmites, and, luckily for me, many emergency exits. You see, I’m as claustrophobic as one can be, and, while I thought I could somehow fool myself into thinking that this mini cave expedition would be loads of fun, I soon ended up sitting outside on a bench, hyperventilating into a bag while the rest of my friends continued the adventure.
It’s really a shame, as I do have an adventurous side. Sadly, pretty much every adventure that seems worthwhile involves me doing something I’m absolutely terrified of. That’s why I thank God for the crazy people who do all of this stuff for me, filming it for prosperity’s sake, thus allowing me to live vicariously through them via the National Geographic channel or through movies, like the cave-dwelling monster flick, The Cave.
We open thirty years in the past, on a group of adventurers as they venture into the Romanian mountains in search of a remote, ancient church. Actually, it’s not so much the church they are looking for as it is the giant, underground cave system that is rumoured to be underneath it, as well as the promise of riches left behind by the Knights Templar who’d occupied this place. They find the entrance to these caves, of course, but, just as they begin to celebrate, the walls cave in around them, leaving them trapped beneath the ruins of the church.
Now, thirty years later, Dr. Nicolai (Marcel Iures) has rediscovered the cave system, and has hired Jack (Hauser) and his team of expert cave divers to help map out this immense subterranean world. The team begins their descent, and almost instantly discovers that this cave is unlike any other they’ve encountered. The system is immense, with Jack’s brother, Tyler (Cibrian), likening it to an underground Amazon. This world is teaming with bizarre albino rodents, crystalline scorpions, and all manner of sightless beasties, including something much larger and more cunning than anything they can imagine. One of these creatures attacks a member of the team which leads to an explosion that finds them all trapped in the cave. Jack is also attacked, but survives, and manages to bring back a chunk of the thing that tried to kill him. Kathryn (Headey), one of Nicolai’s biologists, determines that this creature was a host to some sort of parasite; one that helps a host adapt to its surroundings in a super accelerated manner. Jack discovers that he has been infected by this parasite, and begins to exhibit changes that have the rest of the team wondering whether or not they can trust him to guide them back to safety. As Jack’s condition worsens, he finds himself in tune with the very creatures who are stalking them, and the truth about these creatures reveals itself.
The Cave features a great concept, but fails in its execution, delivering little by way of chills and thrills. It all seems so hastily cobbled together, and we never really get to know any of the characters well enough to care what happens to them, so, in the end, the film is just a confluence of disjointed action sequences with cardboard characters getting mowed down by equally uninspired monsters. The subplot of Jack’s exposure to the parasite could have made for a much more tense and frightening film, but that’s hardly explored at all, save for a few moments in which he waxes philosophical about the creature’s intentions, weaknesses, etc. The film looks fantastic, though, which is why everything else is such a letdown. The mix of sets and genuine cave diving footage makes for a truly forbidding and claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s just a shame that the script didn’t take advantage of the wondrous world in which it was set.
The DVD from Sony features a commentary track, and a pair of featurettes, including one called Into the Cave that introduces us to the underwater camera team that filmed the best parts of the movie, and it’s a telling sign that I found this short more entertaining and frightening than the feature it accompanies.