The Descent (2005) Review
Written by: thegoldensimatar
Scary as hell, gory, suspenseful, relentless, the best horror film of 2006...those are but a few words of how I can can describe British director Neil Marshall's followup to his hit Dog Soldiers...The Descent. Marshall skips the sophmore slump and definatly shows he knows horror and what scares people with this movie. Its tight, caustraphobic, and at Marshall waits just after whhen you think the scare is going to happen to spring it on you. I would defiantly be excited if Mick Garris asked Marshall to do an episode for Masters of Horror. Some might think I am overreacting to the film, but I have to say I most certainly am not. Descent gave me the horror fix I have been craving for so long. A film that would make me jump and scream like a little girl...well...at Fangoria's sneek preview...I did just that. Never before have I walked out of a movie so terrified.
Lets start with a brief rundown of the story for those of you who have not paid any attention to the hype or numerous articles in magazines and online about this. A group of friends (all female) all share a passion for the outdoors. After a white water trip, Sarah is returning to the hotel with her husband and daughter when a truck hits thier car and kills her family. A year later, Sarah reunites with her friends in the Appalachian Mountains of the USA for a caving trip to hopefully calm her still shattered nerves and get the gang back together. Sadly, things go horribly wrong as there is a cave in and as they are trying to escape, Sarah begins to hear strange noises in the dark and sees what seems to be a man...
Now, caving team, cave, cave in, and monsters hunting them is were all similarities to the horrible The Cave end. Marshall proves an expert at building tension, relieveing it slightly, then ratcheting it up before finally letting it all come out in a quick, brutal, and renlentless attack with plenty of blood and gore. All of these elements The Cave sorely lacked.
Filmed in almost complete darkness in tight, narrow corridors of rock where much of the time only flashlights, glow sticks and flares (and in two scenes the merciful sun) are the only lighting; it would easy to screw up. Darkness and tight areas would of course equal terror and tension in real life, yet it is hard to replicate on film since we the audience know that we are safe in our seats in the theatre or safe in our Lazyboys at home. One key to terror is make everything perfectly believeable from the get go and hold off on the creatures because we know those are coming and we are wondering when they are coming and thus we are in a state of suspense.
Like in Dog Soldiers Marshall introduces us to believeable characters who look and act like someone you would bump into on the street and not someone straight from a fashion magizine trying to act like an average Joe or Jane. In The Descent we meet the full cast when Sarah and Beth arrive at Juno's cabin up in the hills before they go on thier journey. I know I am simply gushing over Marshall's directing, but that is how impressed I am with his ability to handle actors. They are introduced in a very relaxed enviorment and you are given time to learn about each of them and grow to like them, instead of simply meeting all the characters and the camera panning as each on looks off in another direction like they are busy with something. More about the cast later.
As I was saying before, in a cave where it is dark and casutraphobic, it is easy to screw up. Its easy to do a dark and tight enviorment and then spring the standard BOO shit every few minutes and keep the terror for a few seconds and never really followup on it. Marshall does do this yet he does followup the jump BOO by injecting a heathly dose of action and tight battle and confusion. Though this does mean some MTV style editing, it is not done to the extreme as some others might yet I do like about his editing style is that he doesn't do three frames from angle A, two from B, and six from C...he instead keeps the camera firmly fixed on the action and the cuts jerk from steady angle to steady angle.
Now, getting to probably the second most important element of a good horror film, the actors. Because no matter how good the creatures look or how good the director, the actors must be capable to withstand the conditions of the shoot and have the mentality to sell the horror and guys in suits. The cast is all female which adds a great deal of freshness and fun to it all. Women in peril has always been a staple of the genre and like the God Mother of all the female heroines in horror films the great Sigrouney Weaver, a few of these girls turn into at least semi-ass kickers from scared little girls. But, that does not happen till late in the film.
The chemistry is the best I have ever seen for a horror film in a while and is the exact perfect mix like Marshall had done in Dog Soldiers. The women do act like they have known each other for years and would fit in perfectly in any real world setting as a group of friends out for dinner. Course thier friendship beigns to be torn apart as they get lost and the Crawlers come in for dinner. Here is where they shine in playing the vulnerable, confused, and scared as hell cavers who are suddenly being hunting relentlessly by humanoid creatures. The preformance is always sold on the eyes since they are suppose to be the keys to the soul and let me tell you they looked like they had seen the stage floor crack open and Satan himself rise. According to Marshall and the actresses in interviews, they were not allowed to see the Crawlers till they first encountered them in a massive room in order to build the tension. This is note to all horror and creature movie directors....do this...it sells the fear a lot better. The acting is solid throughout and I could not find a single flaw with it all. And let me say this...hell hath no fury like a British babe bathed in blood and pissed as hell.
Now that I have spoke about the Crawlers, let me tell you about them. They are human in shape, yet they are blind, have a cat like nose, a dirty marble white in color and bat like ears. They communicate through clicks, chirps and grunts. This is the section of the review where I discuss makeup. I have no idea how they did this though most likely they had the actors in skin tight white suits and with a few facial appliances, though in the light when you see the Crawlers move you do not see any unnatural bumps that would suggest a suit. So...that would lead me to guess that they might have been painted...yet the paint would have come off and.....well....hell....I have NO idea how they made the actors in the crawlers. I can say that there is a facial appliance and a skull cap yet for the life of me I cannot figure out how they did the rest of the body. Kudos to the makeup department, you have confounded me. I must wait for the DVD to learn your secrets.
Now, also...there is LOTS of blood and gore. Plenty to sate the hunger of any gore hound. Guts, splatter, spray, strips of meat still on the bone, and of course the giant pool of blood that one of the poor cavers falls into. This definatly pleased me though I always wish for more.
Now, as I have always stressed in my reviews, the music. David Julyan's score is contemporary but still very John Carpenter, very dark, creepy, pressing and it moves at a faster beat than Carpenter's scores, yet it still has the same pounding and relentless beat that is a trademark of Carpenter. It perfectly captures the mood of fear, tension, and caustraphobia. I am definatly gonna get the soundtrack.
Overall, I could not find a single flaw with Neil Marshall's The Descent, it is an excellent second feature, a sound horror thriller, and a bloody good time for any horror fan. Even if you didn't care for Dog Soldiers, Descent is still a must see and even if you hated The Cave and think Descent is just like it, you are wrong. Descent destroys Cave on every level and has set a high bar for any other cave based horror films that will be hard to top.
Okay, everyone...stay scared. This is tgs signing off.