Aug 5, 2014

Review: The Descent (2005)

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.


Genre: adventure, horror
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Produced by: Christian Colson, Paul Ritchie, Paul Smith, etc.
Written by: Neil Marshall
Music by: David Julyan
Running time: 100 minutes
Production company: Celador Films, Northmen Productions, Pathé
Distributed by: Pathé, Lionsgate
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: £3,500,000
Box office: $57,051,053 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone, Oliver Milburn, Molly Kayll



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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