Real spelunking can’t be this dull

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Real spelunking can’t be this dull

“The Cave” opens with the promise of a classic horror-mystery film. A group of looters drive deep into the mountains of “Cold War Romania” to retrieve artifacts from an ancient church. When the men blast through the floor into a legendary cave below, they are slaughtered mysteriously and left amid the bones of Knights Templar.
Ostensibly, the audience will be curious to know what evil lurks within the cave. But a pedestrian adventure follows when years later a group of cave surveyors visit the site. Trapped by an underground river, they rapidly discover what killed the grave robbers: a flock of albino bats and schools of barracuda fish.
The story echoes that of a certain “Outer Limits” episode, but rather than inspiring nostalgia for the good old days of science fiction, this dreck reminds us why those days disappeared.
Our imperiled but scrappy group of spelunkers includes Jack (Cole Hauser), the incommunicative leader; Tyler (Eddie Cibrian), his brother; and Kathryn (Lena Headey), the requisite hottie scientist.
There’s also an elderly scientist (Marcel Iures), an athletic tomboy named Charlie (Piper Perabo), a cameraman (Daniel Dae Kim) and Tyler’s jittery rival Briggs (Rick Ravenello), but they’re about as well-developed as the film’s understanding of genetics.
The big twist involves a parasite carried by the bats and fish that infects those bitten, and alters their DNA, transforming them into people with bad intentions. When the team leader is bitten, the big question is whether he’s leading them out of the cave or into some kind of trap.
Hauser is creepy-looking and scary, but his impact is muted by the wooden acting that surrounds him.
Meanwhile, the non-human acting is weak also. In their rare appearances, the bats and fish completely lack menace. I suppose that their camera-shy nature could build suspense, but the pacing is botched, and I found myself bored waiting for them to emerge.
“The Cave” might have been tolerable with better production design, but alas, the rows of gray stalactites and nondescript tunnels seem neverending. Two attempts to inject some color into the setting ― an icy cavern and, right next door, a chamber of boiling lava ― simply expose the utter absurdity of this entire ordeal.
The film’s only accomplishment is that it manages to depict cave surveying as both deadly and incredibly boring. Real-life spelunking certainly has its risks, but they usually involve conking your head or getting lost. The wandering itself ―through rarely-seen underground worlds deep in the belly of mother Earth ― is an incomparable thrill.
Moviegoers had reason to expect better from freshman director Bruce Hunt, who worked as a unit director on two sophisticated and visually stunning science fiction epics, “Dark City” and “The Matrix.” But “The Cave” is a somnolent mass of dull design, stiff acting and ridiculous plotting. Better luck next time.

The Cave
Action / English
97 min.
Opens Thursday

by Ben Applegate
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