After recently watching Black Water: Abyss and Crawl, I was hoping that The Tomb: Devil’s Revenge would complete my 2020 trilogy of cave or other psychological allegories for feeling trapped, and it definitely did that, but I’m amused to say I saved the worst for last.
Directed by Jared Cohn, who’s directorial history shows he loves this kind of ‘style’, and written by the legendary Maurice Hurley, of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the original The Equaliser fame – but let it pointed out that Hurley passed away in 2015, so I’m unclear how much of his ‘blessing’ was on this screenplay – because this is really poor throughout.
While the opening titles of The Tomb: Devil’s Revenge seem to offer you a sequence of history regarding what we’re heading into, you’ll quickly learn it’s scenes from the film itself. We all know James Bond can do this with artistic flare, but here it’s a strange choice as it spoils the only interesting thing about the film: the creature designs.
After that sequence, we dive into ‘real-life’ and waste no time heading to a random cave with three, seemingly inexperienced spelunkers/potholers, searching and exploring. After a hilariously bad fake fall, where one of them breaks something, which offers nothing substantial to the wider story, our main character Sergio (Jason Brooks – our lead) goes off to investigate a strange noise, whilst the other (R.J. Phillip Andre Botello) sits back and watches whatever is going on. They don’t seem too desperate to help their mate in severe pain. As we go deeper into the cave with Sergio, I think it’s supposed to be dark but despite extremely bright headlamps blinding us as viewers, the caves aren’t dark. They’re drowned in sunlight, which doesn’t change and seems like a massive production error. The darkness would have heightened the fear but it doesn’t really exist. This is emphasised at one vital point, when the family are told to turn their headlamps off and hide in the dark, but are clearly hiding in bright shards of sunlight.
Moving on, once further down in the caves, and much like Black Water: Abyss, that main character seems to know more than the rest, so he heads off and easily discovers an underground lair. There we learn of a ‘relic’ he’s looking for (it’s not named, it’s just any old relic) and series of moments where the helmet flashlights completely blur out anything onscreen. But Sergio finds the relic (stick with me), I think he touches it but then it disappears. His reward? A vignette of visuals and a dry cough, the latter of which only seems to happen once again afterwards. So maybe a crisp got stuck in his throat.
The Tomb: Devil’s Revenge has a few moments of intrigue but they never develop. I even need to go into the plot because it’s so simple, you’ll work it out. There’s an early moment where we’re with Sergio and it’s not clear whether it’s reality or just ‘his mind’ and this is played up to a point where I thought they’d start to question everything but just as it feels like it’ll get interesting, it just doesn’t. After that, and using the score that sounds remarkably like Thomas Newman’s from American Beauty, we follow Sergio driving into town (maybe he’s got on the radio), plagued with visions of devil’s and that momentary bad-crisp-cough. From here, some positives, the wonderful Jeri Ryan turns up as Susan – who we assume is his wife. There are a few scenes with her that bring a steady moment, Jeri brings a reality that’s much needed, with a nice focused centre that keeps things ticking over. There’s a lot to be said for subtlety, and as there’s not much else here, it’s very welcome.
Oh, and then there’s William Shatner who plays Hayes, Sergio’s father and is somewhat off the rails. His character rambles on about honour, war and being a proper solider and, of course, being a ‘man’ and not a coward. It’s here we learn of ‘a curse‘ over the family, that’s all related to the cave. What the curse is, we don’t really know, I might have missed the link but they’re all pretty alive, and Hayes has pedigree racehorses, so I guess the curse is that you go a bit crazy but you get horses, so that’s nice. Shatner does have a canny turn between maniacal and obsessional though, I love him for that.
The best, or most impressive, thing about The Tomb: Devil’s Revenge is the Devil/Skull people designs, with the main guy looking part-demon, part Predator. However, despite standing around in semi-circles with large swords, they don’t really seem to do a lot more and only really seem to like watching you in the sunlight, before killing random people for any motivation they muster.
There are occasional moments of relaxed, smooth hand-held direction that drift easily in and around a conversation but there’s also too many long scenes, with people walking to and from the cave, which we get to enjoy about three times. Did they edit? Editing can never be underestimate and I’m unsure who had the final cut so, again, the bad stuff continues to outweigh the good. The only other positives is the good family casting, with daughter Dana (Ciara Hanna) standing out with a more natural performance, alongside Ryan, but son Eric (Robert Scott Wilson) loves a bit too much of the over-dramatic.
Anyway, in some form (maybe drunk) it’s almost inexplicably watchable but the last 20 minutes are so inherently stupid and unintentionally hilarious, that it’s almost worth watching to believe it. Inoffensive? Absolutely. Compelling? Not at all. Could it be a good background film on a Halloween night? Probably but not without alcohol and a host of snacks and, even then, the ridiculously messy conclusion kills any hope of recovery. Tell you one thing though; you’ll never grumble about Christopher Nolan’s dialogue volume again.