Thursday, August 10, 2006

An Important Question

What is the greatest spelunking movie made in 2005?

Let us examine the contenders: The Cave, The Cavern, and The Descent.

First up is The Cave, a modestly budgeted Screen Gems release directed by the Australian Bruce Hunt. Hunt, the second AD on The Matrix, was unceremoniously demoted to third AD on the subsequent sequels, shunted aside by some dope named David R. Ellis (who did stunt work on Harriet the Spy and portrayed Ski Lodge Killer #3 in Philip Noyce's Blind Fury). Recovering from this slight admirably - he made a sturdy little horr-lunking film with The Cave. Cole Hauser, Piper Perabo, and Morris Chestnut hang out in Romania wearing sleeveless shirts before they decide to jump into a hole. Hunt smartly dispenses with the exposition during the credits - and once the drooling pterodactyl shows up - and the muscular crew starts running and yelling - there's lots of fun to be had. There's a fabulous set piece set in an underground lake, with ghostly reflections and tricky sound design.

Then we have The Cavern, which I didn't know existed until a few minutes ago. An Australian (!) production directed be a fellow named Olatunde Osunsanmi, it also goes by the name of WithIN, which we'll just ignore. What piques one's interest is that Olatunde's next project is one he's producing, called Caverns of the Mojave: An Expedition with Real Cavers. So one would expect this guy knows his caves. The fine folks at don't show much enthusiasm - but wait! Apparently Osunsanmi employs a technique he calls "hypershake" which I can only imagine puts Tony Scott to shame. A great quote from an Amazonian; there's a scene "where one idiot is drilling into a wall with a normal size power drill and they use "hypershake" to make the whole room quiver for two minutes". It's a must see!

Finally there's the heavy favorite The Descent directed by non-Australian Neil Marshall. It utilizes space far more effectively than The Cave, squirrling the camera through claustrophobically small passages. The scariest scene occurs before the bloodthirsty naked mole rats skitter into the frame - Shauna Macdonald gets stuck in a hole and starts hyperventilating as her helmet light catches the motes of dirt that fall before the ceiling collapses on her. Let's say it's viscerally satisfying. The script is quick and precise, with the spunky Holly character actually landing a few jokes, and the violence leaves scars - and slowly dehumanizes each spelunker who sheds the most blood.

I have a soft spot for The Cave, with its matinee idol meatheads and innocent PG-13 chills. But objectively The Descent has to take the 2005 spelunking crown. It had more respect for caves and cave culture.

But all could be upended when I see Ogy Durham star in The Cavern.


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