Review by Heather Seebach
The United Kingdom has really dug itself a niche in the horror genre lately, thanks to movies like 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead. In 2002, first-time writer/director Neil Marshall created the British cult hit, Dog Soldiers, which is often cited as the best werewolf film in decades. Now, Marshall returns with his much-anticipated sophomore effort, The Descent. Already a critical success overseas, this horror flick is finally hitting the States courtesy of the gore gurus at Lions Gate Films. The movie follows six women who become trapped underground when a caving expedition goes horribly wrong. Despite a cast of relative unknowns and the misfortune of being lumped together with Hollywood trash like The Cave, The Descent might prove to be the breath of fresh air that horror buffs have been waiting for.
If nothing else, the ladies of The Descent will impress you with their caving skills. This recreational sport involves climbing rocks, drudging through deep water, squeezing into tight spaces, and descending massive vertical drops. For cavers, the thrill is in the physical challenge and the exploration of new geological formations. But it comes with the very real dangers of falling, hypothermia, dehydration, flash flooding, and in the case of the film’s protagonists, cave-ins. Cavers must carefully plot out their route or risk becoming lost in more complex caves. Once inside a cave, escape may require moving through tiny tunnels or ascending a rock wall with the help of a rope and some clamps. Whether simply exploring or running for their lives, the characters in this movie perform daring acts of caving that will leave you breathless long before the actual horror kicks in.
Needless to say, when the flashlights go out, a cave becomes pitch black. These dark, claustrophobic conditions make it an ideal location for a horror film. Marshall uses the underground scenery effectively to keep the audience on edge. The Descent is a more mature effort than his first film, particularly in its character development. The six leads are more than token horror victims - they are realistic, sympathetic women. Furthermore, the film toys with the idea that the greatest danger to the women may come from within themselves. Strong character development and a solid script place this film on a higher level than most modern scary movies. The critical comparisons to Alien are warranted, and The Descent proves that the classic man-versus-monster survivalist scenario can still be fresh. Furthermore, it proves that mainstream horror need not be brainless and plagued with CGI. Some might say the film is “good for a horror movie,” as the term horror has become somewhat derogatory. This is an unfair assessment because the genre is still deserving of respect, as The Descent - both a good horror and a good film – reminds us.
Also recommended Deliverance (1972), Alien (1979), Dog Soldiers (2002).
The Descent is directed by Neil Marshall. It opens August 4th and is rated R for strong violence/gore and language.
©2006 Thomas Huff and Heather Seebach, BlownPotential.com