The Descent (2005)
A group of female cavers become trapped in an uncharted cavern, only to discover that they are surrounded by cannibalistic humanoid creatures who have evolved down there……
Perhaps best described as a mixture of THE GOONIES (1985) and ALIENS (1986) for the horror film affectionado. An unexpectedly brutal opening gambit tees off proceedings brilliantly. Neil Marshall, in the director’s chair, certainly knows how to sock it to the audience.
The first 45 minutes are the best of the movie. It’s in the unknown that real fear lies, and in many respects the less supernatural terrors are those which are more frightening; our protagonist becoming awkwardly stuck in a tiny – and more importantly, crumbling – tunnel is a good example.
Marshall spends a lot of time focussing on the complex relationships and social order underpinning this group of friends. His protagonist is an emotional woman who lost her husband and child in a freak accident a year previously (in the opening scene). Despite her flaky demeanour over the course of the film she turns into a hardy survivor, albeit one plagued by disturbing hallucinations of her dead daughter. You have to say as well that these women are no standard horror movie fare – they don’t do silly things or go off exploring on their own. These are resourceful individuals who by the end of the film are giving as much as they get from the creatures inhabiting the caves.
When we do see ‘the crawlers’, they resemble garbled and deformed imaginations of the GOLLUM creature from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. From there in, the film is more of an action thriller laden with enough gore and viscera to please even the most bloodthirsty devotee of splatter cinema. Caving implements and hooks fly through necks, skulls are bone-crushingly decimated by rocks and eyes are gouged out by badly bruised hands.
A throbbing Carpenter-esque score provides the disco beat to ALIENS-like action in the caverns beneath some very isolated mountains. Carpenter’s influence doesn’t stop with the soundtrack, here we have a bunch of people trapped in a living hell of the ultimate siege situation.
Visually speaking, The Descent (2005) looks great. It’s the baroque lighting which really sets it apart as lanterns, glow sticks and flares illuminate the carnage that surrounds our intrepid troop of female explorers. This use of colour is the harbinger of the biggest scare of the picture – when we first glimpse one of the ‘crawlers’…….
If you like ambiguity, there is just enough of it in the ‘two endings’ approach taken by Marshall in his final act. It’s also quite amusing to pick up the references to CARRIE (1976) and even the themes of Nicholas Roeg’s classic chiller DON’T LOOK NOW (1973).
Despite the positives, there isn’t anything original in this film. It’s simply well-executed re-runs of things we have seen on our cinema screens before. It is however scary, and that alone makes The Descent (2005) one of the better British horror movies of the last 20 years.
Hotdog rating: 7/10