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Why do so many cave movies suck?

Last week I watched a string of so-so to dull movies as possible Holy Grail write-ups, and somehow in the middle of that I noticed a trend: two of the four were primarily set in a cave.

Ordinarily I would dismiss this with a shrug.  At best it is a minor, uninteresting coincidence... except that then I tried to think about good movies about caves and I couldn't come up with many.  The only legitimately good one was The Descent, but The Strangeness, The Boogens, Sanctum, The Cave, and The Severed Arm (which is technically not a cave movie, but does spend about 30-40 minutes in a cave-in) were all subpar at best and downright awful at worst.

Then you have the case of something like Alien Species, which is hugely entertaining... but still a bad movie.

That can't be right, can it?  Six out of the seven cave-themed movies I can think of off the top of my head are bad?  What do other cave horror movies look like on IMDb?


Well, shoot.
Caves are a good setting for a movie.  They're dark and spooky, which is perfect for horror.  They're expansive and naturally gorgeous, which is perfect for your set design.  They're cramped and claustrophobic, which is good for forcing interpersonal conflict to the surface.  They're prone to cave-ins, which can instigate the plot, and give opportunities for exploration to keep the story moving forward.

So why do so many of them fail?

The common theme in most of these movies is that they're just lazy.  I get the feeling that a lot of filmmakers assume that caves are so inherently interesting that they don't need to come up with compelling characters or conflict.  This would certainly be the case for low-budget features like The Strangeness and The Severed Arm.  The most charitable way I can describe them is "slow."

A lot of these movies also suffer from a problem where the characters just wander around for awhile, as if being lost is somehow a terrifying thing rather than just an annoying thing.  You ever miss your exit on a highway and then you have to pull off on some random road to turn around and get back on track?  You ever do that and then think to yourself, "Wow, this would make a terrific movie."?  Yeah, neither have I.

And almost none of these movies really pay attention to the naturally beautiful features of caves.  Caves have incredible formations and stalactites and stalagmites and underground lakes and weird, bulbous rocks... but almost all of these movies just look like the characters are sitting in a particularly dark set.

Obviously there are some good cave movies out there.  But I'm starting to think that once you hear a movie is set in a cave, you should probably temper your expectations.