The Cavern (2005)
By: Craig Villinger on April 20, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Sony (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. 77 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Olatunde Osunsanmi
Starring: Sybil Temtchine, Mustafa Shakir, Ogy Durham, Andrew Caple-Shaw, Danny A. Jacobs, Drew Saenz-Hudson
Screenplay: Olatunde Osunsanmi
Music: Bryan Galvez
Tagline: Descend Into Terror
Country: USA
Movies focusing on groups of people who go down into a cave and find themselves dealing with big nasty thingies that bite are in vogue at the moment. First there was The Descent – a tale of a group of adventure seekers who are attacked by creatures while caving. This was followed by The Cave - a tale of a group of adventure seekers who…errrr….are attacked by creatures while caving. Then came the direct-to-DVD cheapies like Caved In, and the film we are about to devote the next few minutes of our lives to - The Cavern. After giving it some thought, I've decided that these "Cavers in Peril" films are so prolific they really should be lumped into a sub-genre of their own, and I for one would like it to be called - Spelunxploitation. Catchy, isn't it? Well, I happen to think so…

The setting for this particular Spelunxploitationer is Kazakhstan, where a group of hardcore American cave divers have ventured into unmapped territory hoping to be the first to explore a newly discovered underground system, but not long after the descent begins their priorities change when one of the group meets an untimely end, and they find their exit route blocked by a giant boulder. Suddenly forced to search for another way out, and with their light sources fading by the minute, the tightly knit team quickly falls to pieces when they realize they are not alone in the cave, and that their cramped underground space is shared by something big, hairy, and in need of some serious anger management!

Even if I hadn't seen three similarly themed movies – at least two of which were far superior – in the months leading up to The Cavern's Australian DVD release, it's fair to say I still wouldn't have enjoyed it too much. Although director Olatunde Osunsanmi does occasionally put the viewer on edge by effectively capturing the claustrophobic feel of the underground setting, and a couple of early gore sequences are well handled, the film's many faults tended to overshadow its positives. Despite a pre-descent "getting to know you" session around the campfire I felt as though I knew virtually nothing about the characters when the action kicked in, and a potentially significant back story – which was brought up early on and set the stage for a tasty spot of group in-fighting – plays only a minor part in the film. The characters also fall apart so quickly once the poo hit the blades that I lost virtually all interest in them. After all, the characters in The Descent and The Cave handled themselves with a touch of poise in the early stages of their respective underground crises, but these guys were freaking out and bitching and fighting with each other only minutes after the first drop of blood was spilled. Honestly, they carried on so much I was just itching to see them all slaughtered!

My biggest gripe with The Cavern however was its cinematography, which at times made the film virtually unwatchable. By "unwatchable" I don't mean it was so bad that I couldn't bring myself to look at the screen any more – I mean that at times I quite literally couldn't see what was going on! Most of the underground sequences were approached with a kind of Dogme 95 mentality using only the actors' flashlights and headlamps for illumination, and while this in itself isn't such a bad idea as the darkness did add a realistic touch to the film, many sequences simply looked way too dim, and on occasions less than half the frame contained any visible picture information. Also, someone really should have politely tapped the actors on the shoulder and asked them not to point their bloody lights at the cameras so often, as it became quite annoying. In fact, more than once I felt compelled to reach for my sunglasses, until I realized the shots where the actors weren't filling the frame with white light would be even harder to see. Add a few moments of Blair Witch style shaky-cam here and there and some upside down camera angles for no apparent reason and you've got yourself one movie which isn't very pretty. Incidentally, as a counterpoint to my comments, the film took out the award for "Best Cinematography" at 2005's Shriekfest Film Festival, so at least one person disagrees with me. Go figure.

Now, at this point in the review you might be thinking to yourself "OK, so the characters suck, and the lighting sucks, and…well, it seems like almost everything sucks - but what about the creature? Surely even the lamest of flicks can be saved by a mean and nasty beastie Mr. Reviewer Sir?", and if such thoughts do happen to be running through your head at this very moment then I would agree with you. Yes, even the crappiest of crappy movies can be redeemed by a good creature or two, but sadly, we don't get much here. The creature (yes, there is only one) is barely glimpsed until the final minutes, and when we eventually do get to see the bad boy in all its glory…well, it's a bit of a surprise actually, but it's not an exciting one, and the eventual reveal also made several earlier sequences seem quite stupid.

OK, so the seemingly endless cavalcade of atrocities I've presented here so far might have you thinking The Cavern is among the worst movies ever made, but the truth is it's not that bad – and with the closing credits rolling at the 72-minute mark it's over long before you can truly despise it. The film does end on a high note with the final four minutes featuring cannibalism, murder, and even rape, and perhaps if the other sixty eight had matched the finale I'd be putting the finishing touches on a positive review at this very moment, but alas it didn't, and so, I am not. There are a few good ideas on display here, but in the end The Cavern is a cheap, inferior version of films we've already seen.
Video
The Cavern is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is enhanced for 16:9 television sets, and since the film appears to have been shot on HD the picture quality is a mixed bag. Outdoor and brightly lit shots are surprisingly crisp and vibrant, however once the action shifts below ground there is an obvious drop in quality. Fuzzy video noise is noticeable during some of the films darker moments, and colours are occasionally drab and uneven, while softness is also a minor issue, particularly during close up shots which lack definition.
Audio
The Cavern's sound design is one of its strongest points, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track presented here is impressive, particularly considering the obvious budgetary restraints. The rear speakers are used consistently for ambient effects like rushing water, cave breezes, and crunching footsteps, and to enhance the musical score.

Dialogue comes through the center speaker and is always easy to understand, and during several scenes it can also be heard echoing though the rear channels, which helps immerse the viewer in the underground environment.
Extra Features
The tiresome anti-piracy trailer plays at start-up, and once again it can't be skipped or fast forwarded through. Yawn. Movie piracy is stealing. Stealing is against the law. Blah blah blah. Anyways, after sitting through that for the millionth time the only actual features on offer are trailers for The Plague, I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, The Woods, and Click.

I can't say I'm too disappointed by the minute selection of extras present on this Aussie release, but just for the record the US disc comes with a commentary from writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi, two featurettes, and a storyboard gallery. The Region 4 buyer gets short changed once again.
The Verdict
Sadly, it looks as though this new millennium wave of Spelunxploitation movies may have peaked where it started with The Descent, and while The Cavern is far from the worst movie I've ever seen, it is the worst "people go down into a cave and get attacked by monsters" movie I've ever seen. Yes, it's even worse than Caved In – and that featured the guy from The Blue Lagoon taking on giant CGI beetles! The Cavern is definitely one for Spelunxploitation completists only.
Movie Score
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