Director – Neil Marshall
Cast – Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone
Release Year – 2005
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This film is highly regarded as being one of the best horror films of this millennium, and I agree 100 percent. I still remember the very first time I saw this film. I walked into the local movie theater and saw the poster and though, “Hm…never heard of that film, but I’ll check it out”, and boy was I impressed! Writer/director Neil Marshall first broke onto the horror scene with his very well done werewolf film Dog Soldiers, and after giving us The Descent, he has officially solidified his name in the horror genre, and is definitely one of the more promising UK horror writer/directors.
The film follows Sarah, a young widow who loses her husband and daughter in a horrific car crash. Fast forward one year later and she is still suffering from the traumatic event, mainly in the realm of hallucinations, which require her to take pills we are left to assume are prescribed by a psychiatrist. Before the accident Sarah was very accomplished in outdoor activities, mainly consisting of white water rafting, rock climbing, and…spelunking. In an attempt to give Sarah’s mind a break from the traumatic events that have hindered her life, her friend Juno gets a group of Sarah’s girlfriends together for a trip into a cave system to bring back old memories of good times they had while spelunking. The trip into the beautiful cave system is going well until a rock collapse takes place and barricades the only entrance they know of. Panic begins to set in as the girls realize they have no exit plan, and must find a way out of the cave with very little supplies and only a limited amount of charge left in their flashlights. However, things get much, MUCH worse for the girls when they discover that they are not alone and must battle a breed of blood thirsty predators that dwell in the dark, unknown depths of the cave system.
This film is just plain awesome. I honestly cannot think of many scarier places to run into blood thirsty creatures other than a cave system. The Descent brings us the ultimate sense of panic in knowing that not only are these ladies being hunted down in an area of the cave that they have no knowledge of, but they only have a limited amount of time to find an escape. They do not have the luxury of taking their time and making sure that they are not walking into a trap, and the rush in judgment forces them to make irrational decisions in an atmosphere where irrational decisions can be very catastrophic. I love it!
This film takes a little while to get started, with none of the real action taking place about 45 minutes into the film. But I will tell you this, the film does a great job of keeping your interest during the entire 45 minute development period. As soon as the girls enter the cave your interest is immediately sparked, knowing that soon enough you are going to see the amazing looking creatures they come into contact with. We are teased quite a few times with camera angles that would normally provide a good scare, but instead are left with nothing but a chuckle at how silly you feel during the non-scare. I can honestly say that all of the development and non-scares are worth it once the very first scare kicks in. The scare comes completely out of nowhere, at a very tense moment, and was still a complete surprise to me when it happened. Writer/director Neil Marshall really struck gold with this film, and his limited directing resume does not show at all during this film. The cinematography is great, and really used the low lit, captivating cave system to it’s full advantage with excellent use of shadows during the creature scenes.
Speaking of the creatures…they are AMAZING! The creatures reminded me a bit of Gollum/Smeagle from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but with a much scarier face. The movements of the creatures were what really made them scary. They mainly moved through crawling(always creepy), they were extremely fast, and were able to climb the walls of the caves even while upside down. None of this is surprising to me though, given that the creatures had been living in the caves for a very long time(evidence to support this in the film), and eventually adapted to the cave physically and biologically.
The aspect I loved most about this film, is the fact that this film uses nothing but women as the protagonists. I enjoyed this not because they were hot, but because it is very rare these days that we see horror films where women have to fend for themselves without the strength of a male. Countless times in all types of films we have seen a male, or a few males save the day for the ladies in the film, and although I am sure most people like seeing that sense of heroism, I definitely enjoyed the creativity this film displayed with it’s all-female cast. The fact that the protagonists are all women means they are more vulnerable to these creatures, as they are not going to run as fast, or be as strong as males would be. This provides an extra sense of tension knowing that these girls are going to have to step up, and fend for themselves in ways they probably never had to do previously. It really is great seeing these chicks fight off the creatures, with some of them dying in gruesome ways, and others killing the creatures in gruesome ways. We get the best of both worlds with this film, and I highly applaud writer/director Neil Marshal for that.
There is not much I did not like about this film. The acting was solid, the pacing was good even though the “horror” doesn’t kick in for a while, and the atmosphere and cinematography are great as well. I did find the ending to be a bit confusing, but I found it to be very satisfying and not your typical “Hollywood” ending. Proof that Hollywood has their own cliché style of endings is this; The “controversial/confusing” ending is on the UK version of the film(also known as The Director’s Cut), while the original US release has a much “happier” ending. Yes, of course American production companies(all part of Hollywood) would give us the “happier” ending. Which do I prefer? The UK ending for sure. It provides originality, and although it is a bit confusing, and there area lot of theories out there to what it means, we are going to finally be given an explanation to the ending in “The Descent 2”. Yes, that’s right, there is a sequel to this film coming out this year with a current release date in mid-June. Finally! I must warn you though, if you plan on seeing this film, try not to watch the trailer for The Descent 2, as it will have a few spoilers about the first film.
Overall, this is an amazing horror film that I definitely recommend to all horror fans, and anyone else who is looking for a good scare.
– I ranked this film #5 in my Top 50 Horror Movies of the Decade(1-10) post.