Review Date: 7/31/06
In the tradition of John Carpenter’s The Thing, Below, Event Horizon and many others, comes Neil Marshall’s The Descent. Like the above mentioned films, The Descent achieves a closed off atmosphere for its characters within the first twenty minutes of its runtime. Like many horror movies these days, The Descent is filled with standard scares: sudden, loud noises, things jumping into frame quickly, etc. But what The Descent has, twenty abattoirs worth to be precise, is blood, something lacking in the recent wave of PG-13 remakes and America horror movies in general.
The Descent stars a cadre of United Kingdom actresses most American audiences will be unfamiliar with, the same situation encountered by 2000’s Pitch Black, save for Vin Diesel, Keith David and Cole Hauser. Descent’s low cost cast, however, afforded the film’s producers the opportunity to spend more money on special effects and general film quality. The rocky, subterranean environment of The Descent and the mysterious creatures that live and dwell within it are the real stars of the film anyway.
The creatures in the film (called Crawlers) aside, The Descent is actually two movies in one: (1) a drama about a group of friends that comforts one of their own after a accident and (2) the horror movie they all eventually find themselves in. This is very similar to the situation in Pitch Black which also has two separate stories that converge: (1) an action film about a single minded murderer and (2) the horror movie that he and the rest of the people stranded with him find themselves in. These drastic and unimaginable situations bring out the true, hidden natures of the characters within each film.
A year after the aforementioned accident in The Descent, the now expanded group of friends believes its time to resolidify their friendship and decide to go cave diving in the Appalachian Mountain range. Once inside the caverns and subsequently trapped by Mother Nature, the film’s heroines eventually find they are not alone and the horror movie viewers are accustomed to begins: throats are ripped out, limbs are broken and more than a few gooey, gushy, finger-licking good surprises transpire that I won’t ruin. There is also a very subtle sub-sub plot that involves the leader of the group, Juno, played by Natalie Jackson Mendoza, her best friend Beth (Shauna MacDonald) and Beth’s husband, Paul (Oliver Milburn), that is only hinted at with eye movements, much like the wedding scene in Braveheart. If the viewer isn’t paying attention and listening to the words behind words later in the film, the free flowing plasma will shroud their vision and they will completely miss it.
Though the film’s original ending is open to interpretation and will likely spawn debate, The Descent is a well-crafted horror film with many gripping action sequences, good editing and a serviceable musical score. I use the word “serviceable” because the score to the recent remake of The Hill Have Eyes was superior in many respects though neither of them comes close to the excellence of The Thing’s. Like The Hills Have Eyes remake, The Descent isn’t afraid to be disgusting in a few instances, clearly defining what horror, in this type of horror movie anyway, can be.