PSA: The Descent (2005), or Yuck! Neil Marshall Keeps Freaking Me Out!

5 08 2009

What’s up with all the horror movies I’ve watched recently? I don’t know, either, but I just had to write about this one. I had almost forgotten about The Descent; in my movie-a-day haze, I’ve found it difficult to recall much past the previous weeks of grueling cinematic critiquing. But I recall seeing this in theaters with my lady on a rainy Thursday afternoon and loving life afterwards (Bren and I have been together for a while now, if you do the math on that). And it wasn’t just because of my super-cool lady that I was having a good day, nor was it the burrito-gasm I had at Chipotle that day (I fully expect some free dinner from Chipotle for this plug); The Descent was a well-made horror film from across the pond that really impressed me.

It begins with a tragic accident. After an afternoon of rafting in Scotland with friends, a young woman, her husband, and their daughter are driving home when their car careens into the path of a truck, killing the husband and the daughter but leaving the young woman alive. We switch to a year later, where the young woman, named Sarah, reunites with her friends to go caving. It’s a bittersweet reunion and all, so things are kind of off to a rocky start (HEE!) as they begin the descent into a cave formation that is a bit off the beaten trail. Unfortunately, the friend who organized it all, Juno, doesn’t reveal just HOW off the beaten trail. This turns out to be an entirely new system that nobody has ever explored before. Due to the extremely dangerous conditions they find in there, I can see why. Terrifying jumps, incredibly tight spaces, and an unforgiving darkness makes everyone start to question just where they are, and when Juno tells everyone that she lied about where they were going so they could explore a new cave together, shit really hits the fan. But before they can really talk this out very much, the inhabitants of the unexplored cave start attacking them. They’re disgusting humanoids who have lived without the sun or the fresh air for years, and they smell the delicious meat all over the sexy young spelunkers…

With verve enough to turn my spine into Nickelodeon Gak, The Descent takes one of the worst situations imaginable (i.e. being trapped in a cave where nobody knows where you are or how to find you) and turning it up a notch (i.e. albino cave-crawlers with bloodlust). It’s a disturbing concept that is exacerbated by the stark realness of it all. It doesn’t for one moment feel inauthentic or staged. Almost like an impeccably-shot documentary, it chronicles the proceedings with an attitude more like Alien than creature features like Wrong Turn. Some scenes will sink your heart with their genuine feel as the friends drift further and further from the light into an unknown danger.

Director Neil Marshall, famous for his cult success with Dog Soldiers, used his first opportunity with a big budget to make a movie that is immersive in its horror. He’s not just making a movie about cave monsters, he’s creating a story about people who love the thrill of adventure coming into contact with the indifferent sprawl of the unknown, and how that affects them. I’m not saying the guy is a genius, but he’s not just blowing smoke up our asses here. I really felt for these poor women and their unfortunate lot, which is made all the worse by the turmoil going on amidst them.

Full of long, lingering shots into the mother of all terror, the darkness, Marshall’s crafted feeling of unease never lets go. Rather, I should say that it’s not just the darkness, but what might come out of the darkness. The cave-crawlers are really disturbing! They’re a mix of the inbred freaks from The Hills Have Eyes and Griffin of The Invisible Man fame. They are specially evolved for cave life and look like, um, this:

Well, THATS not going to haunt my nightmares...

Well, THAT'S not going to haunt my nightmares...

‘Nuff said, right? Good job on creature effects.

It’s not without it’s faults. The “setup” to the horror is abysmally long, and time in the caves could have been increased by sacrificing some bonding time at the beginning. It’s all well and good that they have a life outside of caving, but what does that say about the movie that they didn’t have enough horror set up so they had to go with longer exposition scenes instead. And to compound that issue, I really had little to no concern for any of these chicks besides Sarah. Reason; despite a healthy amount of dialog surrounding the group of women, not a lot was explained about their relationship. Huh? It sounds weird, but a lot of their long conversations are adventure-based, so all the backstory leading up to them being friends and doing wild adrenaline junkie stuff together is a mystery. I had no vested interest in any of them for the sole fact that they were not properly explained. And they had PLENTY of time to do so!

So take out all that exposition and replace it with more cave scenes, and you have a truly epic horror movie that is on par with Alien in sheer scariness. It’s a great concept performed well by all parties, and I really appreciate the strong female characters who don’t curl in a ball and give up instantly when nobody around them has a penis (at least a penis with pigment in it). This was an overlooked gem that more people need to check out, especially since the sequel comes out in September! Or October. Or whenever they release things nowadays. Anyway, this film comes highly recommended by me; I give The Descent 8 1/2 albino goblins eating delicious Chipotle burritos out of 10!

Tomorrow we take a look at strange director Tarsem in The Cell!




One response

6 08 2009

I love this film. It is claustrophobic and intense and has some genuinely creepy moments. I don’t know about this sequel though, seems pretty unnecessary. Of course, I’ll have to see it anyway.

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