THE DESCENT: The Horror Film You've Been Waiting For

PLOT: An all-female caving expedition goes horribly wrong, as the explorers become pursued by a strange predator.

NOTE: This is NOT a review of THE CAVE.

Horror films are a terribly under-appreciated genre. Often made on the cheap with a cast of unknowns, studios can depend on turning a profit since these low-risk investments do well on DVD. But you can never tell by reading the screenplay if a horror film will be scary. Most of them have the potential to be scary, but a good scare really depends on timing. It’s when the camera angle, the editing, the sound and the music all come together to transform what’s on the page into something terrifying.

The sad truth is most horror films are not scary. Not even close. Oh, they might get lucky with a jump here or there, but a film that can sustain tension over 90+ minutes almost deserves a Special Oscar.

Writer/Director Neil Marshall’s previous film, DOG SOLDIERS, was a simple military vs. warewolves picture, made with almost no money. Acclaimed in the UK, it never got a proper theatrical release in the U.S., eventually ending up as a Blockbuster Exclusive DVD. The film’s hampered by its budget and a wildly uneven script, but DOG SOLDIERS is entertaining and well worth a rent.

With THE DESCENT, (set to open later this year) Marshall more than fulfills his potential. Not only is the film a considerable improvement over DOG SOLDIERS, it is one of those rare moments when the elements come together and a horror film scares even the most jaded of viewers. The film is not perfect; there’s still a half-dozen moments that remind you Marshall is new to the game. But he gets so much right, and he does it so well.

Let me say it again, THE DESCENT will scare you. This is the kind of film experience I dream about, where I’m screaming (and sometimes cursing) out loud. I once looked to the people sitting next to me and they looked at me, not believing what just happened. I would even laugh after screaming because I had to have that release. And I couldn’t believe the skill. THE DESCENT is not as good as ALIENS or HALLOWEEN, but for scares it holds its own in comparison.

Marshall shows real confidence in his direction that he doesn’t throw the creature at us right up front. The bulk of the movie is a highly tense mountain climbing film. With each obstacle, his script brings on the claustrophobia, escalates the tension, and throws personal conflicts at our characters. By the time the creature element is introduced, the film is already working just fine. The final third is a trip into full gore horror, and it may lose some people like with FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, but the transition here is much smoother.

Marshall still goes too far with his use of blood, sometimes straining the realism of the situation. It often feels like it’s just there to please the horror fans who come strictly for the gore. There’s a scene early on where a character suffers from rope burn. Cut gloves and red hands I get, but her hands are sliced open and blood pours out of the wounds. That’s too much. Hopefully, as Marshall matures he will spare us the gory close-ups.

And there are still some story beats that just do not work. There’s a late plot twist involving trust within the group. A terrible mistake is made. We witness the event, but the film takes the position that the mistake was deliberate, and justice must be served. It’s an idiot plot and it only takes away from the movie. Then there’s the occasional minor misstep like when someone ignites a torch by clanging two metal hooks together until they spark (and in only two tries.)

So, THE DESCENT is not a perfect film. I really don’t care. This film deserves the clichéd moniker of being called a thrill ride. I left the theatre full of energy and shaking with enthusiasm. If you’re looking for thrills and scares, THE DESCENT gives you more than your money’s worth.


Blogger Cutshaw said...

The following comment makes a good point, but beware...although edited, it is slightly spoilerish.

8:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You claim the plot is idiot for taking the position that a character needed to be punished for what is in essence a horrible mistake.

But the movie (or its script) is so realistic in how it sees the events that it may have caught even you off guard. You see, while we as the viewers see that the accident was indeed an accident, the recipient of the injury had no such knowledge. All that was left was to assume it was done deliberately.

There were suspicions, tensions, coincidences, character flaws causing stupid mistakes to be made, that accumulated into consequences that may seem as if the movie is taking a certain position, when in fact it merely observes how these characters acted and reacted on events and circumstances.

The movie and its script are not meant to "steer" characters into doing the correct thing morally, but to put them in situations, and then let things unfold realistically and naturally and that is exactly what happened here.

The movie is not making a statement, it is showing the actions of characters that are the result of not only what happened before, but what they THINK happened, with the information that they have, which naturally is less than the information we as viewers have of what exactly happened and for what reasons.

Simply put. WE know it was an accident, but the recipient didn't, and therefore the person she told about it later didn't either. They suspected deliberate evil in the act even though there really was none and the film merely shows how characters respond to that.

8:13 PM  
Anonymous joao pacheco said...

It´s this simple. "The Descent", is for me the best horror movie ever. It has everything, psychological horror, gore, suspense, great scares, everything that a horror fan, loves and wants to see on a horror movie, and i´m an horror fan. So there are some things that i agree with you and some that i don´t. For example, one of the aspects that i don´t agree with you is that you say that the plot is idiot, because acharacter that needs to be punished for a horrible mistake. It´s not, and if you consider that only, we might say slight "slip" on the movie script, all movie plots are idiot, well not all the movies the plot of "The Godfather" is perfect, but the most of them are. What matters here is thhat, in spite of not being an extremely original story, Marshall shows us that he is a real master in horror matter, showing us everything that needs to be shown, ilove that little details, like when the girls start to make their descent to the cave and we see Sarah putting her fingers in the marks, of what seems to be fingers too, on the rocks and it feets perfectly with her fingers. Marshall start showing us that they are not alone in that caves, and that level of confidence shows us that he knows exactly what he´s doing and knows exactly how to scare us exactly when he wants. That alone, stand for it´s own, and shows us that Marshall is the next big horror master. Also i agree with the anonymous post when he says that the script is so realistic that it might even caught you off guard. For example, and this shows how realistic the actions of the characters in the movie are, if you put yourself in Sarah´s position and had that make the decision of punish or not the character that had just killed yourbest friend, what would you do? That´s a damn harsh decision to make but she made it. Also i don´t agree that the level off gore is exagerate. A read on an interview that Marshall wanted to make an PG-17 movie, with all the elements attached to it, and he made it, or else his movie would had no point of have been made, because Marshall makes his horror movie with one foot on the past and the other in the future. LONG LIVE NEIL MARSHALL!!!!!!!!!!!!

3:06 AM  
Anonymous Richard X said...

I just saw this last night and I loved it. It's about time a well made genre picture is put out there.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I simply loved this movie. Its a well made movie that kept my attention from beginning to end. I will definitely buy a DVD of this movie too as I really wanted to watch it again and again.
The Descent Quotes

5:59 AM  

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