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. Many 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 release in the U.S., 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, Marshall more than fulfills his potential. Not only is the film a considerable improvement over DOG SOLDIERS, it is one of those rare horror films where the elements come together to terrify 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. The advertising keeps selling this movie to the crowd that liked SAW and HOSTEL. I liked those films, but they are morsels in comparison to this film's banquet of terror.
Marshall shows such confidence in his direction that the bulk of the movie is a highly tense mountain climbing film. With each obstacle, he brings on the claustrophobia, escalates the tension, and throws personal conflicts at our characters. By the time a 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 a late plot twist involving trust within the group isn't convincing enough. 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 moniker of 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. This is the best film I've seen all summer.


Blogger ~Sara~ said...

I can't wait to see it. I am about the dark scaries!

8:12 AM  

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