In Hollywood/Did some exec/A crappy horror film decree/About spelunkers, toned and tan/And caverns measureless to man/And beasties not so wee. Yes, there’s a ”Kubla Khan” reference in The Cave, in a desperate attempt to win over Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s influential fan base. Sci-fi horror aficionados, however, might want to look elsewhere for their scares, as they’re unlikely to find any here. Fright-wise, The Cave is a dry hole.
Yet, there’s promise in the premise: When a massive system of caverns is discovered in Romania, a team of expert cave divers rolls in to explore this vast underworld — which, unbeknownst to them, is teeming with hungry subterranean fauna. The unwitting crew is led by Jack (Cole Hauser), an all-business type who keeps his thrill seekers in line. ”To virgin caves!” they toast, while Jack’s equally stern No. 2, Buchanan (Morris Chestnut), admonishes, ”Respect the cave.” Sadly, that’s about as fun as the dialogue gets. The self-seriousness never ferments into full camp. This movie is so damp and droopy, the stalagmites are barely erect.
Vague and ersatz in its design, The Cave captures the terror of being trapped on a weirdly lit soundstage with an insufficient budget. There’s just too much illumination down in those depths (the director would’ve done well to examine Hauser’s own Pitch Black) and the creatures themselves look like something H.R. Giger put up for pet adoption. Wounded by one of them, Jack begins to mutate into…a monster? A hero? A wiry, beady-eyed version of Matthew McConaughey? The truth will likely stay buried until the DVD.