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Heh, i was watching this movie on Net5 one day, and my girlfriend, who gets scared of everything, just walked in the room and saw the first frightening scene (wont spoil it) and actually cried ;)
She forced me to go to bed with her to comfort her, so i still havent watched the movie :(
The Descent is a spelunking adventure that goes horribly wrong when a group of women, thrill seekers all, run afoul of a race of blind cannibal troglodytes. Claustrophobes need not apply. The first half is creates unease very early, giving one character a trauma to get over, and then plunging the cast in darkness and cramped spaces. If this were a survival movie, it would work quite well without the introduction of monsters. Once those monsters show up, the killing begins, on both sides, and we may or may not hedge into a metaphorical space where one woman's trauma becomes everyone's nightmare. In that way, it avoids becoming just a string of jump scares, though it is that too. Admirable for its stark use of lighting and negative space to gives the caves a hellish atmosphere, it's an effective, thrilling monster movie for (ok not) the whole family.
A common complaint that I often have about horror movies is that they lose their steam about halfway through the movie. It's not even like the typical movie which loses its steam more like in the third half. No, it's at the half mark where everything falls apart. At least that's how it is in the bad horror movies. Lots of bad horror movies have at least semi-interesting premises and decent beginnings but it's just so disheartening when nothing holds up until the end.
Luckily, The Descent isn't like that at all. I can tell you straight up that the last half and last third hold up quite nicely. I haven't seen Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers but it does seem pretty unique, interesting and was pretty well received at the time. It also serves as a good beginner experience for Marshall before getting into The Descent three years later. I suppose that the premise of a bunch of women going cave diving could seem a bit silly. I tell you, it's anything but.
Three friends, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid) are white water rafting while Sarah's husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) and daughter Jessica (Molly Kayll) look on. On the trip back, there's an accident that ends up killing Paul and Jessica while leaving Sarah alive. Fast forward a year, Sarah gets together with Juno and Beth as well as some other friends in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina for another adventure, this time for cave diving. However, she's clearly still haunted about what happened to her family while her friends try to offer her the support that they can.
One thing I really like about The Descent is that is uses its all-woman cast to great effect. They're regular ladies that don't exude those usual Hollywood female character traits. They aren't all girly either since they're clearly into activities in the great outdoors, they drink beer and they also have real conversations. They swear but it's not like the shooting gallery of Hollywood R-movie comedy swearing sessions either. That's probably the Judd Apatow effect, but too often the non-stop barrage of swearing just sounds like the scriptwriters are trying too hard to make their R-movie the most R it can be. Not The Descent though which Neil Marshall gets the right balance by just making people sound real and act real in their given situations.
This is a horror movie and yes there are some jump scares in quite a few places. That sounds bad but I'd only say that two or three of them were actually bad jump scares. I'm starting to become pretty good with horror but there were a couple of times that The Descent was able to literally make me jump out of my skin. The Descent is great at not showing what really is there in the depths of the cave that Sarah and her friends go down to explore and it's better off for it. You're left using a lot of your imagination of what could happen as the movie goes on and then at around the one hour mark you finally see what's up. It's well worth the wait.
The caves that we see in the film are all sets that were built and wow do they look incredible. With great use of lighting and sound, everything looks painfully real. Claustrophobia is real in The Descent. There's more than a fair amount of gore, so be aware of that. Also, David Julyan's score was much more than what I was expecting from a horror movie, even a good one. It was able to go from being tense to terrifying to even epic-sounding. It definitely exceeded its mandate.
I avoided giving as much of what happens in The Descent because it's the type of movie that's worth watching with knowing as little as possible. There are a couple of things that seem derivative of other successful horror movies but that was OK with me. It's a scary movie from beginning to end that is going to leave you pretty exhausted by the end of it's 100 minute run time. The Descent is a wonderful descent into madness.
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In 4 official lists
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This movie ranks #35 in TSZDT's The 1,000 Greatest Horror Films
This movie ranks #103 in Scott Tobias's The New Cult Canon
This movie ranks #203 in Emma Beare's 501 Must-See Movies
This movie ranks #525 in TSPDT's 21st Century's Most Acclaimed Films