Monday, August 4, 2008

The Descent (2005)

Rebecca (Saskia Mulder): This isn't Boreham Caverns, is it, Juno?
Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza): Holly was right! Boreham Caverns was a tourist trap!
Holly (Nora-Jane Noone): Don't try to pin this fucking shit on me!
Rebecca: So where are we, Juno?
Juno: It hasn't got a name. It's a new system. No one's ever been down here before. I wanted us all to discover it!

At a glance: Neil Marshall’s cave-based horror film uses dimly lit, claustrophobic and dangerous caverns, and 6 chicks in danger, to enhance the monster movie genre.

From the start, The Descent uses shocking tragedy to put its audience on edge. It settles into a ‘chick buddy’ picture then, focusing on 6 young women who have traveled together to North Carolina to do some caving. These are young women with a lot of testosterone who drive fast, call each other ‘dicks’, and have more bravado than most guys I know. Maybe these are real women, or these characters were written by a male writer? Dunno, it fits the current Lara Croftish mode.

The ringleader, Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza), doesn’t need no stinkin’ map – she leaves it in the car. When trouble ensues, everyone gets a little angry with her, and you can understand why.

Although this is a monster horror film, it goes more than halfway before introducing the monster, and that first half is best for me (I’m not a horror fan, and didn’t realize this film was so grisly until I got into it). The first half is scary and tense enough for me, as the cavers deal with a number of claustrophobic and life-threatening situations and injuries. When the monsters start attacking, this should please gore fans, although some of them might not be so pleased they had to wait for it so long. I personally wasn’t enjoying this part of the film, as it simply was too explicitly violent for my taste. This movie rates highly (85%) on Rotten Tomatoes, so horror/gore fans seem to be happy. There are a few different endings, depending on whether you catch the theatrical release (happy, although in a horror film, ‘happy’ is a relative term) or sad (director’s cut).

Fans will be glad to know that there is a sequel due out in 2009 (although only part of the cast is returning, obviously, and with a new director and writers).

One nit: There are no elk in North Carolina like the dead one the women find as they hike to the cave. Rating: 2 of 4

"This intermittently effective UK horror thriller carefully establishes the psychological relationships among the women, then squanders this calibrated and generally plausible setup with a series of crude, implausible, and scattershot horror effects."
- Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader)

"[Writer-director Neil] Marshall makes real movies, not just schlockfests designed to sate the lusts of gore-lovers (although there is plenty of gore, too)."
-  Steve Biodrowski (ESplatter)

"You will feel like you have descended to the pits of hell."
- Kamal 'The Diva' Larsuel (3BlackChicks Review)

"...whatever qualities have made horror fans embrace The Descent are lost on me."
- Andy Klein (Los Angeles CityBeat)

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