The Descent Review
By Joe Lozito
If you're going to have any fun with "The Descent" you're going to need to buy the premise: six thrill-seeking British women get together for a wee spot of spelunking and quickly find themselves trapped deep underground where someone or something may be stalking them. There. If that sounds like a good time at the movies, "The Descent", Neil Marshall's gleefully gory spook-fest, is the film for you.
Mr. Marshall isn't kidding around. First of all, unlike "The Cave"
, "Descent" is actually very dark. The only light comes from the lights fastened to the ladies' helmets and, in one particularly clever move, the night-vision setting of a digital video camera. This makes for some particularly tense sequences and calls for some inventive direction by Mr. Marshall (who also wrote the script).
It takes a while for the film to get going but once the ladies are in peril, this could possibly be the worst vacation ever. For the first half of the film, as the cavers get deeper and deeper into trouble (quite literally), Mr. Marshall turns up the claustrophobia until a nearly unbearable sequence involving a particularly tight passage. And just when things couldn't get any worse for these poor Brits, things get much worse. One of them thinks they see something. Eventually, they find out what.
With the exception of Shauna Macdonald and Natalie Jackson Mendoza, the women are just above interchangeable. But all the actresses invest themselves fully in their performances. The British flavor also adds some spice with idioms such as "cheeky bitch" and "taking the piss out".
There have been a lot of comparisons to "Alien", but "Descent" is more like "Jaws" in a cave. Mr. Marshall understands that it's what you don't
see that's scary. And in a cave, it's easy to not see. You thought you were afraid to go in the water? You may never go spelunking again. Of course, unless you're already a cave-diver, it might be a bit hard to relate to these characters. I mean, really, what are you doing in that cave to begin with?
Above all else, I appreciate what "The Descent" is attempting to do. It's not one of those obvious slasher films that plague the multiplexes when Hollywood's out of ideas. As is evidenced by the poster design, Mr. Marshall isn't your average horror film director. He's written a tight, clever script and has the directorial chops to back it up. There are plenty of false scares (mostly the old dream sequence trick), but also plenty of real ones. "The Descent" may not be a classic, but it's likely to remain with you for a while.