The found footage genre gets an Iberian injection in La cueva, retitled In Darkness We Fall for English-speaking markets, which is playing in the Cult movie strand of this years London Film Festival. Certain specific Spanish atrocities have been well-received by genre fans over the past few years, so the textbook found footage premise may initially raise hackles, yet could be mined for some forlorn hope of entombed originality.
Five twenty-something friends share an impromptu vacation to a remote Spanish island — a spot of hiking here, a splurge of boozing there — all in order to escape broken relationships and stalled careers back in the real ‘adult’ world. After a heavy night of partying, one of the more passive-aggressive members urges the crew to follow him into an uninviting and stiflingly remote cavern, an idea which our hapless and hungover companions naturally leap at the chance to investigate – the film’s first black mark in the unconvincing motivations category. The naïve group soon get lost in the cavernous and encroaching darkness, and tempers incrementally begin to fray. With supplies and battery power dwindling, whose mask of compassionate humanity will crack first in the face of pure, selfish survival?
Director and co-writer Alfredo Montero must be spelunking himself to be beaten to the punch by 2014’s other found-footage picture As Above, So Below, as similar claustrophobic concerns of chilling catacombs and frenzied races against time lurk in the caverns of both ill-fated expeditions. Whilst the latter hammered its crampons onto a Dan Brown archaeological mystery subtext, La cueva avoids any supernatural tethering, a fatal oversight which leaves precarious purchase for the film’s atrocious premise. There’s no albino troglodytes, no missing link mayhem, and only lip service paid to any previous passions bubbling between the hapless victims, resulting in a narrative which swiftly descends into a survivalist chore shot in tedious shaky-cam, an experience which seems to coil for twice as long as its mercifully brief 80 minutes.
The film falls into many of the pitfalls of the found-footage genre: unexplained is an opening prologue prowl of the abandoned campsite complete with the missing family’s mildly concerned voice-mails lingering on their discarded cell phones. A character’s insistence of continuing to film during atrociously inappropriate events stretches credulity to breaking point, and a final coda mysteriously abandons the non-fiction conceit and reverts back to the third person perspective which subsequently shatters any vicious vérité immediacy. The film’s dedication to its potentially terrifying premise required further fathoms of thought in the pre-production stage, as while one skewering moment heightens the stakes and strengthens the film’s blind grasp at any moral or social fidelity, it crawls into its final act, leaving the audience battered and bruised like its long-suffering inhabitants, twitching into the sunlight and thankful the ordeal is finally over.
Resorting to cheap jump scares is the common de facto evidence of lazy horror standards, to which In Darkness We Fall also plummets, further betraying a paucity of originality or subterranean thought. After recent Spanish-language horror peaks such as the The Orphanage (2007) Sleep Tight (2011) and Julia’s Eyes (2010), this is a deeply disappointing descent.
– John McEntee