The Cave was the feature film debut of the Australian Bruce Hunt who previously worked as a commercials director and directed second-unit on The Matrix (1999) and sequels. (He has yet to direct another film). The script was a collaboration between actor Tegan West and Michael Steinberg who had previously been a director with the quite good The Waterdance (1992) and the thriller Wicked (1998), as well as producer of the Farrelly Brothers Theres Something About Mary (1998). The film was shot on location in an extensive real-world cavern complex in Romania.
It is interesting to compare The Cave to the much more successful The Descent. The two have almost identical stories about a potholing party being stalked by creatures that can see in the dark. Like The Descent, The Cave also has a plot element where the party is dependent on a leader who has gone off the rails and is starting to demonstrate flawed judgement. Where Neil Marshall built The Descent around a tight ensemble of women characters, The Cave by contrast seems built around pumped-up machismo its focus is as much on the adventure sports side of the film (the potholing, the diving, the abseiling and rock-climbing scenes) as it is the monsters. The Descent featured an all-woman cast but managed to eschew any opportunities for titillation; by contrast, The Cave casts the film with mostly male actors that have been chosen for their handsome good looks.
I never had the opportunity to see The Cave in theatrical release and was forced to watch it on DVD. Viewing the film on the big screen would have been an undeniably impressive experience the camera makes full use of the caverns and there are some superbly photographed scenes of the divers exploring their depths by torchlight. The film also seems to go to great lengths to make the use of equipment used by the party seem authentic.
The Cave makes good use of the Creatures Lurking in the Dark monster movie formula as patented by Alien (1979). Indeed, The Cave is no more than an Alien-styled monster movie with a novelty setting (a network of underground caverns). Within the basics of the formula, director Bruce Hunt creates some reasonable suspense and a number of surprise jolts. There are some fine sequences with the traversal of the rapids; an unnerving sequence where the party is gathered in the water in the midst of a large cavern as something stalks them from beneath the water; and a particularly good sequence where Piper Perabo scales a cliff face and a monster comes after her, causing her to fall some fifty feet and be left hanging on the end of her rope and then having to run along the vertical cliff face on the rope as the creature comes after her again. There is a somewhat ridiculous climax with Cole Hauser diving off rocks to take on one of the creatures hand-to-hand in mid-air. As with most of these Alien copies, we are only ever given brief glimpses of the monsters.
The producers have deliberately chosen a cast of relatively unknown actors. The roles they are placed in are generic and without any depth. That said, most of the cast fill the parts competently. Cole Hauser is never the most expressive of actors but fills his part with a quiet strength. The two best in the cast are Lena Headey and Morris Chestnut, both highly underrated actors who seem eminently in need of decent vehicles that can allow them to flex their strengths. There is also a minor part from Daniel Dae Kim, the Korean husband from tvs Lost (2004-10). This is a surprise to anyone who has followed Lost so used did one become to seeing Daniel Dae Kim speaking only Korean there that it is an abrupt jolt to see him speaking perfect English.
Unfortunately, The Cave is a film where the journey there is far more interesting than the eventual arrival. Though the film throws in interesting ideas about the creatures being mutated humans, this idea goes nowhere. (Mindedly, The Descent did not do a huge amount to explain itself either and has a very generic description when boiled down to a pure plot description). All that is eventually unveiled is a well-worn deck of cards a film that consists of a series of action set-pieces, a standard Alien-copied creature and a perpetually hyped dramatic score. Indeed, the sole thing that stands The Cave above being yet another creatures in the dark film is the novelty of an interesting location.