Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi
Produced by Terry Lee Robbins, Ioana A. Miller, and Gerald A. Vitatoe, Jr.
Written by Olatunde Osunsanmi
Director of Photograpy Yasu Tanida
Music by Bryan Galvez
Cast: Sybil Temtchine, Mustafa Shakir, Ogy Durham, Andrew Caple-Shaw
2005/81 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
1.78:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment DVD
I'm not sure what the spelunk has been going on lately, but we've seen a bumper crop of movies about caves hitting the market recently. These films take the already questionable idea of going into a large hole in the ground and adding an extra element of danger to heighten the tension. THE CAVE hit U.S. theaters earlier this year and THE DESCENT (which I have yet to see) has been shown around the world and should come to America very soon. And heading directly for DVD is THE CAVERN, a movie which sounds very similar to the other films in this trend. Is there anything about it to make it special?
THE CAVERN is set in the Kyzl Kum Desert in Central Asia. There, a group of spelunkers are preparing to enter a previously unexplored cave. Due to the fact that caving is serious business and that they don't want anyone else getting to the cave before them, the explorers haven't alerted anyone to their whereabouts. The group's leader, Gannon (Mustafa Shakir), is excited, yet anxious about the journey, as he lost his girlfriend in a caving accident two years before. The rest of the group, Miranda (Ogy Durham), Ori (Andrew Caple-Shaw), Bailey (Sybil Temtchine), along with guide Domingo (Andres Saenz-Hudson), and journalist Ambrose (Danny A. Jacobs), can't wait to explore the hole.
But, once they enter the cave, things go badly from the start. After they make the long descent down the main shaft, their lines to the surface are cut. Then, the batteries on their lights begin to drain at a faster than normal rate. However, the group is made up of professionals and they don't begin to panic...until they realize that something is stalking them through the narrow passages and picking them off one-by-one. The survivors attempt to find a way out before their lights die...or they do.
If you've ever wondered what THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT would have been like if it had taken place in a cave instead of the forest, then I have two things to say to you: 1. THE CAVERN is the movie for you; 2. I truly pity you. Like that hit (why?) film, THE CAVERN takes a quasi-documentary look at a group of people going into a seemingly benign situation which quickly turns deadly. Once the action moves to the cavern, the movie takes on a "you are there!" approach, mostly using the flashlights for lighting and following the group through the narrow caves. And as with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, there are times when the screen is completely dark.
As much as I hated THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (and quickly noticed that it was a rip-off of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST), I must admit that it was clear that the filmmakers put some work into the film, especially in the way that they built up the various "Blair Witch" legends in the story. Also, the use of two visual mediums in the movie was somewhat unique. However, there's not much originality or depth in THE CAVERN. Again, the idea of a group of people facing a difficult situation inside of a cave certainly isn't original, especially this year. (There is one unique feature -- Unlike THE CAVE which had huge caverns, the tunnels in THE CAVERN are quite narrow.) The plot is overly simple -- the group wants to explore the cave. The back story concerning Gannon and the death of his girlfriend seems important at first, but never really adds any dramatic weight to the film. Once the group realizes that they are in danger, the movie should kick into high gear, but instead, it gets bogged down. The lack of character development makes it difficult for us to know/care who has died. The attacks take place off-camera and go from "keep the audience in the dark" vague to simply confusing.
Another trait that THE CAVERN shares with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is the sudden appearance of a twist ending. However, the ending of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT worked because it harkened back to an off-hand comment from earlier in the film (and this was the only part of the movie which truly worked). The conclusion of THE CAVERN comes out of left-field and wraps things up very quickly. In one sense, this ending is effective, as it's quite shocking and leaves the viewer feeling assaulted. However, the way that it blindsides the audience feels like a cheat and the sudden shift in tone doesn't gel with the rest of the film at all.
On a purely technical sense, THE CAVERN has its ups and downs. Through the DVD extras, we learn that the film was very low-budget and that the caves were actually sets. This is an impressive feat, but the photography inside these sets isn't impressive. Again, only the natural lighting was used in the caves, so the image is often quite dark. And the tunnels are narrow. I'm sure that director Olatunde Osunsanmi's intention was to create a claustrophobic feel, but the result is a movie where it's simply hard to tell what's happening. And 60 minutes of semi-lit shots is a lot to endure.
Again, I haven't seen THE DESCENT, but from what I've heard, it is the cave movie to beat this year. THE CAVE had promise, but it got to silly for its own good. And THE CAVERN is simply to lightweight to offer any scares or entertainment.
THE CAVERN descends onto DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The film was shot using HD equipment, which has yielded mixed results. The image is sharp and clear, as it's free from grain or defects from the source material. Yet, the picture is quite soft at times, and I noticed some video noise. And while video doesn't need as much lighting as film, the dark seems still seemed overly dark here. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides fairly clear dialogue, although the track sounded somewhat muffled at times. The sound design is good, as we are treated to various sounds from the cave in the front and surround channels and the subwoofer is used creatively.
THE CAVERN DVD features a few extras. We begin with an audio commentary from writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi. This is a fairly standard talk, as he discusses the making of the film in-depth, chatting about the locations, the actors, the technical aspects of shooting, and the challenge of making a low-budget film. His tone is oddly even, as he seems neither overly-excited nor disappointed with the project. (He never does explain why a CGI campfire was used...) "Within the Cavern: A Video Journal" (21 minutes) is simply on-set and on-location video footage which thoroughly examines the making of the movie. There are some comments from cast and crew here, but the best part are the occasional blurbs which appear on-screen to explain what we're seeing. There's nothing scary about "Caverns of the Mojave: An Expedition with Real Cavers" (15 minutes), but we do get a first-hand account of real people exploring a real cave. The extras are rounded out by a Storyboard Gallery and the trailer for THE CAVERN.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©