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The Independent Critic

Kevin Novotny, Patrick Bergin, Niall O'Brien, Noelle Brown
Zach Gray
Scott Fogg, Aaron Adams
Rated PG
88 Mins.
First Look
 "Secret of the Cave" Review 
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In "Secret of the Cave," the debut feature film from director Zach Gray, Roy (14-year-old Kevin Novotny) is a young man trying to find himself. As if to make matters worse, he's forced to find himself in a foreign land when his father (Patrick Bergin), recently divorced, drops him off for the summer in the Irish village where his father had grown up.

A stranger in a strange land, Roy acquaints himself to his aunt and uncle (Niall O'Brien and Noelle Brown) and quickly gets to learn the townsfolk, including an unpopular priest (Sean Murphy), the town grinch (Joseph Kelly) and two village youths, Abbey (Niamh Finn) and Gareth O'Connor.

The script, by Aaron Adams and Scott Fogg, depends heavily upon one's awareness and belief in the Irish tendency towards spirituality and superstition as a variety of goings on in the village, largely positive but occasionally negative, are often attributed to a restless recently deceased chap, God or do-gooding angels.

Roy doesn't buy any of the explanations, and sets out to investigate the various events and find out what's really behind the mysterious events in this tiny Irish village.

Based upon an out-of-print (soon to be back in print) children's book, "Secret of the Cave" by Arthur Maxwell, the film is essentially an adventurous journey for a young boy whose journey is truly both external and internal.

In his first major lead role, Novotny offers an understated, quiet performance as Roy. Much of the time this fits his character perfectly, however, there are moments when the dialogue seems to indicate that Roy is bursting emotionally and Novotny's performance doesn't follow. Much of this can be attributed to the overall relaxed pace of the film itself. Even when feisty, the characters in the film are feisty in that "I live in an Irish village and this is as excited as I get" kind of way.

As the aunt and uncle who host Roy, Niall O'Brien and Noelle Brown offer wonderfully energized, compassionate performances that grow in their emotional resonance as their relationship with their young nephew grows. Brown, in particular, is tender and tough as she deals with her seemingly rebellious, truly wounded young relative.

The film's production design is stellar. As much could be expected since "Secret of the Cave" was actually filmed in a small village off the coast of Ireland. David George's cinematography is stellar, though there were times it felt as if he didn't fully capitalize on the wondrous setting of the film.

"Secret of the Cave," a film production sponsored by Southern Adventist University and featuring a large number of university production team members, will be a hard sell for American audiences with its easygoing pace, dialogue heavy storyline and Irish accents that may be challenging for some smaller children to understand. However, its strongly spiritual undertones and richly positive values may make marketing to churches and religious communities a way to increase the film's visibility.

"Secret of the Cave" is likely to experience a limited run in theatres followed by an extended life on DVD where it can be marketed heavily for use in youth groups and children's ministries.

"Secret of the Cave" was a Crystal Heart Award Winner at the 2006 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis where the film received its world premiere.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic