At the end of the day, The Cavern is an old-school monster movie (of sorts) with some really annoying habits. The shaky camera technique can only take one so far. When a filmmaker tries to use it in place of suspense, it grows old very fast. And when this crew of cave divers enter the mysterious crawlspace of the film’s title, writer-director Olatunde Osunsanmi goes hog wild with every gimmick angle he can think of. The result of such activity is the remnant of a good horror film, which builds mood nicely with…some gritty settings, but quickly descends into shoddiness rather than terror. The plot centers on a cave in the deserts of Central Asia, where a team of explorers coping with a tragedy have reunited to explore a neglected passage deep in the earth’s crust. Little do they know, someone – or something – has beaten them to the site, and is now intent on keeping the finding for itself in any violent way possible.
Some of the best films are spawned from the simplest of ideas. And The Cavern has a cast, which does its best to capitalize on such simplicity. Despite the film’s budget and obscurity, these performers give it their all, and have nothing to be ashamed of; because, for all the film’s failures, they keep it from turning into a laughable college film class production from some obscure midwestern university. They do so by actually knowing how to act, and taking the content seriously… even if it doesn’t return the favor. Osunsanmi is the real blame for this missed opportunity. He tries so hard to flex his directorial muscles the entire 81 minutes comes across as numbing and disorienting. And while 81 minutes isn’t very long in normal film terms, it seems like a lifetime when you are using every moment to try and figure out what the heck is going on.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic presentation also suffers from Osunsanmi’s stylistic greed. The film is hard to sit through because of the extremes it goes to in the lighting department. Before the explorers enter the cavern, everything is too dark; afterward, it’s oversaturated with light. You spend the first thirty minutes squinting to see through the dusky tint of daylight, and the overwhelming darkness of night. Then, you voyage into the cave, where hat-lights take centerstage and result in an image as bright as the sun on a clear summer day. Don’t look too long at the screen during these moments if you value your retinas. The only thing positive I can say is all the disorienting darkness and blurry light shines through without any grain thanks to this film’s polished digital look.
The powerful 5.1 track tends to overdue things as well. It’s as if Osunsanmi wants to overwhelm every physical sense you’ve got. Unfortunately, “overwhelming” does not always mean something positive. The dialogue comes out on the low end, thanks to a heavily tipped scale towards bass. The track is afraid of silence, and instead fills out every second of film with an accompaniment of unnecessary rumblings, which simply have you rubbing your temples from the massive headache they cause, rather than forging out a pleasurable movie-watching experience.
Osunsanmi’s director’s commentary is informative enough, despite it being the obvious work of a man pleased in his misguidance that he has made a fine motion picture. Within the Cavern – A Video Journal suffers from worse image quality than the film, and tends to ramble. The storyboard and trailer galleries are both little more than throwaways, but Caverns of the Mojave: An Expedition with Real Cavers was worth a second look, especially for you outdoor types. I’m much more comfortable indoors, but this featurette still managed to be my favorite aspect of the disc (including the film). If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having rented or purchased this film, you might as well watch, and get something out of the deal.
Even as a blood-and-guts, body-count film, The Cavern only occasionally delivers. Most of the time, you’ll be looking for your bearings, wincing at the sharp bursts of bass from the 5.1 track, cursing the low-level dialogue, or reeling from the confusing camera work, which couldn’t have been any worse had the director of photography simply sat the camera on one end of the tunnel and kicked it to the other. The bonus materials offer up the only worthwhile portions, but their merits are too shortly lived to warrant time spent viewing the film.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- Within the Cavern – A Video Journal
- Caverns of the Mojave: An Expedition with Real Cavers
- Storyboard Gallery
- Trailer Gallery