The Descent (Unrated Widescreen DVD) Review
Written by: jay_wigger
The Movie: Horror fans have lived through some slim pickings of late, with Hollywood bombarding them with countless dull and uninspired remakes of earlier entries in the genre (possible exceptions being recent revisits to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead). Every once in a while, though, a film comes along that saves the day, or at least manages to gain back a little respectability for the genre. This time, The Descent is that film.
Essentially the story of six adventure-seeking women who decide to go spelunking in an uncharted cave only to realize once they are in too deep that they are not alone, there is a backstory involving one of the women, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), having suffered a tragedy during the previous year's rafting adventure. This is her first big outing since then and the rest of the women are intent on giving her the adventure of a lifetime. The title of the movie actually has less to do with the cave than it does with Sarah's descent into madness.
The best horror films are the ones dripping with atmosphere, with some shocks and gore thrown it at appropriate moments, as opposed to the other way around (although those types of films have their place too). The Descent is the perfect film for this; what better way to ooze atmosphere than to set a film in the darkness below ground, in the claustrophobic confines of ever-tightening tunnels, where nobody knows what might lurk in the shadows or around the next bend? Throw in the fact that the women are in unmapped territory with no way of knowing where to go next and you can almost feel their tension and fear mount. Oh, yeah...there's also the little problem of having to deal with a race of mutant monsters intent on having the women for dinner.
Writer-director Neil Marshall (the excellent Dog Soldiers) has been hailed as the savior of British horror, and with these two entries in the genre it is an apt description. Who says that horror films should not contain a little bit of subtle auterism? In The Descent he uses the 'caving' trip as a metaphor for Sarah's rebirth; there are plenty of shots of her wriggling through tight tunnels, and one scene where she emerges from a hole evokes the exact moment a baby is born.
It's admirable that Marshall refuses to conform to the current trend of 'Shyamalanism', or to throw in a twist at the end of his films. It's also to his credit that he realizes that his chosen genre is not supposed to end up in the realm of 'happily ever after'.
Despite its intense atmospheric ambience and the fear you can feel when watching The Descent, there is one glaring mistake that almost dissolves everything that had been built up by that point in the film: one of the women, when confronted face to face with one of the blind cave-dwelling creatures, manages to avoid becoming dinner by being completely quiet long enough for the creature to be distracted by something else. Now, the question to answer is this: despite the silence, shouldn't the creature's heightened sense of smell have been able to detect something in front of it that wouldn't normally be there? A minor gripe, I suppose...
The DVD: The 5.1 surround on this disc is excellent. Little drips of water can be heard from behind you, echoes are parlayed beautifully, and there's nothing like the sound of bones breaking and flesh being torn apart in surround sound.
The disc includes a bunch of great bonus features, including: an outtake reel (get a load of one of the creatures doing his best Mick Jagger impersonation in silhouette against a green screen); deleted and extended scenes that for the most part focus on an interpersonal aspect of the film that was probably best left on the cutting room floor; an interview with director Marshall comparing the U.K. and North American endings of the film and which he preferred (both endings are worked into this 'original unrated cut' of the film); a behind the scenes featurette detailing different aspects of making the film, including casting, lighting, make-up effects, and the favorite horror films of many of the cast and crew; three storyboard and scene comparisons of some key scenes in the film.
The jewels of the disc, though, are the two feature-length commentary tracks. The first one, from Marshall and various members of the crew, includes discussions of how they achieved certain effects, as well as details about how to realistically light a film set in a darkened cave. The second commentary track involves Marshall and the cast, and it's great fun to listen to them reminisce about making the film. You really do get the feeling that you're watching one of your favorite films among friends.
Closing Remarks: This is one DVD that any horror fan should be proud to have on their shelf. Even if you're not a fan of horror cinema, The Descent is a thrilling and frightening film that is most definitely worth seeing at least once. Just be sure to leave the lights on when you push 'Play'. (originally reviewed on ioncinema.com )