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The Descent (2005)

-Review by Nic Brown-

 

I saw an interview with writer/director Neil Marshall about “The Descent” a few weeks before it came out. He said the film might have better been titled “Six Chicks with Picks”. He could be right, but I think the current title is more appropriate. Marshall is no stranger to horror, his film “Dog Soldiers” (2002) combined the classic werewolf with modern military in a siege situation and it worked brilliantly (see review) and he has done it again with “The Descent”.

 

The film starts in Scotland as we are introduced to three friends who apparently go on some kind of thrill seeking adventure on a regular basis. Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza), and Beth (Alex Reid) enter the film in a white water raft bouncing down some serious rapids as Sarah’s husband and young daughter look on. This encounter sets the stage for a tragic surprise and some interesting, subtle revelations about the relationships between these women (subtle enough that my wife was sure I'd missed them...)

 

Jumping ahead a year, the film follows the women as they journey to the Appalachian mountains in America to go cave diving with some other women who they know. The six of them are lead by Juno, who’s mapped out a well known cave for them to explore. Little do the rest of them know that Juno has decided to change the plans as part of her need for thrills and adventure, having found a new, unexplored cave to try.

 

Although Juno is the obvious leader, the story really follows Sarah who is on the trip more to chase away her own demons than to get an adrenaline fix. Marshall uses a lot of dream images of darkness and light disappearing to set the mental stage for Sarah’s character. The result is almost as if she has already started her descent into the darkness before she ever reaches the cave.

 

The film does go a bit slowly during the first half, but Marshall throws in a lot of what I call 3D movie scares to keep the audience on their toes and to build tension. In fact exciting things seem to happen when you least expect it in this film, but the best is when they are finally deep into the depths of the cave. This is where Marshall switches from the classic shock scare to using the environment to develop a claustrophobic fear like I’ve never felt in a movie. There were times when the women are working their way through the passages, having to slither through tunnels almost too small to navigate, that I found myself squirming in my seat.

 

Of course all this is forgotten when Marshall again switches back to the traditional horror film scare as the women finally realize they are not alone in the dark subterranean world. The things that are with them are almost human, but much more horrific with their dead, lifeless eyes and razor sharp teeth. The creatures hunt by sound and several times characters are brought within inches of the beasts just praying that they can stay quite and let them pass without being found. Also, having adapted for cave life, the things can climb like spiders on the ceiling and walls as easily as the women move across the floor of the cave.

 

The gore is plentiful, both in the horrific attacks by the creatures and in the equally horrific way the women fight back. Not only are the horror effects good, Marshall also again works on the environment as an element of the story. As the women are separated and move through the caves fighting the creatures, Marshall uses different lighting to define the different groups. The colors help the audience keep up with which group you are watching and to set the mood of the groups as some are fighting and some are just fleeing.

 

The performances by the cast are excellent and Marshall skillfully weaves a story that takes the audience into a descent not only into a horrific expanse of caverns, but also through the depths of Sarah’s mind. The symbolism of Sarah’s journey is hard to miss and the final result is an excellent horror movie that not only provides traditional horror scares but also develops characters well beyond the norm for this genre. According to the Internet Movie Database and several other online sources, the version of the film released in the U.S. has a different ending from the original 2005 theatrical release in the U.K., apparently Lionsgate Films (the U.S. distributor) wanted a “happier” ending than Marshall’s original version provided. The DVD release will most likely have both endings available, so I look forward to having the chance to see Marshall’s original vision for this film. Over all I give “The Descent” a 8 out of 10 simply because I was so impressed with the many levels of this film and the way it gets into your head. Check it out!




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