Sunday, 20 September 2020
The Descent
Written by Sandra Fitzpatrick   
Wednesday, 16 August 2006 18:02

Those of you who read my column somewhat regularly will know that I sometimes enjoy a good scare. When I’m sitting safely in a crowded movie theatre that is! So when I heard some rave reviews of The Descent I decided to check it out for myself. I’ll be honest and say that the previews for this movie did little for me. The fact that the poster flaunts a connection with movies like Hostel and Saw made me even less interested. But feedback from my brother and Roger Ebert stirred my curiosity!

The Descent focuses on the relationships of a group of women who share a passion for thrill seeking. Sarah, Juno and Beth were best friends but a tragic accident forced distance to grow between them. They reunite, along with some other friends, for a caving expedition that they hope will bring them closer together. But of course this is a horror movie, so all of this touchy-feely emotional stuff can’t last forever.

The first half of the film introduces us to the characters and the cave as the girls descend deeper and deeper underground. Caving looks like a pretty spectacular hobby, but one I could never take up! It was psychologically hard to watch as they wriggled through tiny openings, lit the way with flares, and shimmied across cavernous drops. At one point I was feeling so claustrophobic I had to look down at my lap and take several deep and shaky breaths. The movie would have been a great adventure story even if it had continued on this way.

But about half way through the nature of the fear changes. We realize that they are not alone in the depths. Strange albino creatures, not quite human, blindly hunt in the darkness listening for the telltale sound of intruders. The girls now have to fight for their lives while looking for a way out.

From a distance the creatures in this movie were reminiscent of a computerized Gollum-like creature. But when they moved in for a close-up these folks were creepy! Having dwelt underground possibly for centuries they evolved perfectly for life in the caves but are still human enough for us to have a visceral connection with them. I have already given too much away, so I will say no more.

This UK film has a different flavor to it than many of the horror films that have been out lately. Perhaps because of the unknown actors, or the foreign underground setting it had a nice sense of realism to it. The most important characters were the emotionally fragile Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) and mysterious Juno (Natalie Medoza) who both have a lot of character development for horror movie heroines.

As much as I liked The Descent, it’s not a perfect movie. The last five minutes left me slightly annoyed. I understood the ending but thought it was taken one step too far.

Director Neil Marshall also directed another interesting movie called Dog Soldiers, which featured the best werewolf effects to come along in years. Both movies are strong on atmosphere and suspense, and The Descent uses particularly inventive cameral angles. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

Unfortunately my review may come too late for a theatre viewing of this movie. With the onslaught of American movies slated to release before the fall, I’m afraid this gory little UK gem won’t last long. But I highly recommend seeing it if you get the chance. I give The Descent 8 out of 10 stars.