starring Cole Hauser, Morris Chestnut, Lena Headey, Piper Perabo
screenplay by Michael Steinberg & Tegan West
directed by Bruce Hunt
by Walter Chaw The comparisons are inevitable, but that's mostly because The Cave is about 80% identical to Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid: the same throat-talking white hero (Jack (Cole Hauser this time)), complementary women (Lena Headey as the smart one and Piper Perabo as the bikini), black guy (Morris Chestnut in both films), Asian (Daniel Dae Kim), and egghead (Marcel Iures); the same fall from a giant waterfall; and the same various other good-looking male-model types who serve as chum for the same blurrily-shot CGI beast. There's even a cave in Anacondas, if you recall. But the 20% of The Cave that's different (no fraidy-cat Stepin Fetchit in this one), most notably the major plot twist (already spoiled in a doctored image in the film's trailers), make it the superior film. Not a good film, let's not go crazy, but not a terrible one, either--and if you can get into the idea that what the picture's really doing is rewriting the vampire mythos in biological/parasitical terms, you might even have a good time of the Reign of Fire variety.
The picture opens in "Cold War" Romania as burly-looking gents excavate an old church (Anacondas) built over a cave where, the church's mosaic tells us, the Knights Templar once got their butts kicked by demon bats. Undaunted, they proceed to be buried alive until, thirty years later (in non-Cold War Romania), a group of scientists--looking for a giant cave, I guess--discovers the same giant cave and, noting that a lot of it is underwater, call in some super-divers to, um, swim. In the cave. Never mind--all you really need to know is that this is one of those Predator movies where trained specialists (Aliens) are sent in to scour an alien environment (Anacondas) and proceed to get picked off one-by-one by a monster that spends the first part of the film as a doctored point-of-view shot (Pitch Black, also co-starring Hauser). The question to ask, though, is why The Cave decided to tell us that its prologue is set during the Cold War. Is it a reference to the great Cold War creature features of the 1950s (some of which, like Invaders from Mars and Them!, prominently feature caves)? Better is admiring the picture, in a genre-geek sort of way, for being another 2005 release dealing with subconscious, subsumed fears--one that takes place, audaciously, in the underbelly of Dracula's Carpathians.
See, surprise to only the characters, the cave is crawling with monsters, leading to the inevitable scene where the scientist scientifically probes a piece of alien anatomy only to have it clench to a clashing of violins; the one where cells eat each other under a microscope; and the one where someone comes face-to-face with the nightmare after squeezing through a tight spot. Its basic structure is never in doubt, of course, but what is really pretty nifty is that The Cave maximizes Hauser's stoicism and twists it just south so that it reads as delightfully ambivalent. It makes a problem of the lone hero "Duke" archetype who saves society without the skills to also be a part of that society; The Cave is a little like Batman Begins in that regard: a protector from fear using fear as his weapon. (How interesting that the good guys are so hard to separate from the bad guys in this day and age.) And before the metaphor spirals out of control, the picture would get a minor recommendation from me solely for paying homage to Dragonslayer in its creature and production design. If you gotta rip something off, might as well be a classic. Originally published: August 26, 2005.