Cavern, The (DVD)

Cavern reviewStarring Sybil Temtchine, Mustafa Shakir, Ogy Durham, Andrew Caple-Shaw, Danny A. Jacobs, Andres Saenz-Hudson

Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi

It seems there’s been a recent upswing in horrific monster movies set in underground caves of late. If there’s any one thing I’ve learned from these movies it would be that spelunking hundreds of miles in the middle of nowhere in a previously unmapped cave and nobody above ground knows you’re going to be doing so can only lead to tragedy. The Cavern continues this rich tradition by having a group of young thrill-seeking spelunkers going down into a previously uncharted cave system some in the Kyzyl Kun Desert in the nation of Kazakhstan. Yeah, that’s just asking for trouble, especially if it turns out there’s some sort of cave-dwelling monster down there just waiting to pick them off, and you just know there will be. Otherwise, it probably wouldn’t be much of a movie.

That last paragraph also pretty much sums up the entire plot to this one as well. The only added wrinkles are the looming guilt over a tragic incident two years earlier in which one of their own, the fiancé of one member of the group, perished during one of their exotic caving expeditions. This is constantly referenced throughout the film – numerous flashback sequences will follow – but never really contributes much to the goings-on. There’s also a guy looking to do a book on caving is joining them on this particular venture. This guy really just serves as a proxy by which we are introduced to the various characters and get explanations regarding their motivations for taking on the particularly dangerous thrill of mapping and documenting previously unexplored caves.

But almost as soon as the group enters the cave, someone or something slaughters two members of their group, cuts their safety line, and pushes a rock across their only known exit, trapping them within. Making matters even worse is that something inside the cave is draining the energy from their batteries. This means they’re trapped in these unexplored caverns, being stalked by an unseen creature, and have only so much time before their lights go dead and they’re completely in the dark. Naturally, this leads to panic, in-fighting, and a desperate plight to find another way out of this cave before they all get picked off by whatever it is that’s picking them off one at a time. I think we all know the routine by now.

Here’s where my biggest problem with The Cavern comes into play. Simply put, The Cavern features some of the most excessive overuse of shaky cam I’ve ever seen. Director Olatunde Osunsanmi opts to keep the monster off-camera until the very end and in doing so, he tries to create a sense of disorientation – the same sort of disorientation the people trapped and being attacked are experiencing, but this technique proves to be both tiresome and, frankly, annoying as hell. Lots of split second editing, the picture shakes violently, lights flash and often stay out for seconds at a time, and lots and lots of screaming – this sums up about 99% of the attack scenes.

On the one hand, I understand what Osunanmi was going for with this disorientation technique. On the other hand, at some point someone needed to tap him on the shoulder and explain to him that movies are meant to be watched by other people and those people often like to be able to have some clue as to just what in the hell is happening on-screen. If it wasn’t so pervasive I probably wouldn’t have been so put off by his doing this. People complained about getting motion sickness from watching Blair Witch Project. I’d bet The Cavern could cause epileptics watching to experience seizures.

A lot of movies have me complaining about actors that cannot act. The Cavern presents a different problem – actors that can’t stop overacting (screamingly mostly). Not everyone is guilty of this and it isn’t just relegated to the scenes of panic and terror either. Case in point, a scene set before entering the cave has the book writer interviewing two of the spelunkers about their caving philosophies. Their thoughts on spelunking are delivered so seriously in such an ominous manner you’d swear they already knew this was the one they weren’t coming back from.

As for the ending, I’ll say this – it’s actually a pretty solid climax unless you actually stop to think about it. If you do, you’ll come to realize that it’s actually a bit of a cheat.

There are moments of genuine tension to be found within The Cavern, and while I can’t really recommend the movie due primarily to my disdain with the overuse of some of the director’s filmmaking techniques, I still can’t bring myself to fully crap on the movie either. The people behind The Cavern at least tried, which is more than I can say for the people responsible for many a current straight-to-DVD production. One of the extras on the DVD is a video production diary that’s often more entertaining than the movie itself. Amongst the highlights: a 14,000 gallon water tank collapsed and one the producer’s car got blown up after being struck by a propane tank that got accidentally jettisoned. I never knew a propane tank could reduce a vehicle to looking like it got hit with a rocket launcher, but now I know. The DVD also includes a director’s commentary track that I really wasn’t interested in listening to and a featurette about actual cave-dwelling that I got bored with after a few minutes.

Overall, not a terrible film; I’d dare call it a noble effort. But there’s just too much jerky camera work and endless amounts of random screaming for my taste. An assault on the senses may have been what they were going for but The Cavern features too much overkill. Sometimes the phrase “less is more” applies just as much to the filmmaking technique as it does the more gratuitous aspects of such a film.

2 out of 5

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Jon Condit