The Descent
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Neil Marshall
with Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Nora-Jane Noone, Alex Reid, MyAnna Buring, Saskia Mulder, Oliver Milburn, Molly Kayll, Craig Conway, Leslie Simpson, Mark Cronfield, Steve Lamb
release UK 8.Jul.05, US 4.Aug.06
05/UK Celador 1h40

Going underground: The gang voyages beneath the Appalachians
See also:
the descent part 2 (2009)
The Descent After his witty werewolf freak-out Dog Soldiers, Marshall heads underground for this even more gruesome horror movie. It's almost unbearably tense and claustrophobic, and Marshall cleverly sets us up for maximum joltage even if the film struggles to relate with us.

After a horrific family car crash, Sarah (Macdonald) is finally ready to start her life over again with her four best friends (Mendoza, Reid, Buring and Mulder), plus one new one (Noone). Their traditional extreme holiday this time involves cave exploration, but a stupid decision and a couple of accidents leave them lost underground. They spot signs that they're not the first spelunkers to pass this way. And also that they may not be alone in the dark.

The closed-in space makes a superb horror movie set--we can barely stand to watch them squirm through the tiny gaps, traverse Lord of the Rings-size chasms, and cope with things that go bump in the dark. It helps that Marshall spends just the right amount of time setting up the situation before the women head into the cave. They're all well played, but only Macdonald, Mendoza and Noone are able to add any real definition; the other three feel completely interchangeable.

To make up for this, Marshall lays on the chills early on, with the terrible car crash, dream sequences, jumps and false starts, sudden birds and bats lunging at the camera. And most of all, an obvious willingness to get seriously grisly. By the time the women see strange marks on the cave walls, we're already completely unnerved. Then it gets increasingly blood-soaked and primal. There are some problems, mostly in the difficulty we have in meaningfully connecting with any of the characters, and it's not easy to keep up with the chaotic, poorly lit action sequences.

But Marshall is clearly having fun here, and he effectively assembles all of the elements to gross us out and scare us half to death. References abound, most obviously The Blair Witch Project and Carrie. While the final turn of events (well, the final few turns of events) are seriously unhinged--and surprisingly emotional for this genre.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, gore 29.Jun.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Descent Typhoonia, Dublin: 4.5/5 "Bloody brilliant. starts slow but really builds tension before scaring the bejesus outta you! last twenty minutes are excellent! See this movie." (9.Jul.05)

Lynne, Scotland: 5/5 "I certainly didn't find the beginning slow, I found it intruiging and funny at the friendships coming together once again, then the adventure started. Although the 'scary' parts came up slightly later on, I was still grasped into the movie, never a moment where I wanted to fall asleep! I'm not a horror movie person, but this film made me one! If it weren't for the cast's accents, I would never have guessed it was a British movie! It's one of the best British horrors for a long time! The cast are all incredible and piece together to make the film what it is." (2.Feb.06)

archie, san diego: 2/5 "Very surprised at the acclaim that this movie has gotten. It was entertaining but no where near one of the scariest ever. I felt that the only scary parts were, 'jump out of the dark and say boo' kind of scary. And the ending took a weird, artsy turn which I still dont know anyone that understands it. Ever since The Ring I feel like movies have a lot more to live up to. This one didn't even come close." (16.Aug.06)

© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall