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Movie Review: The Descent is Worth the Trip Down

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The Descent

Written and directed by Neil Marshall  

Responding to my son’s cries of boredom, I took him to see The Descent. I wasn’t sure if I was in the mood to see something scary, but there I was, nonetheless – in the fourth row even – for added horror goodness. I have to say, from the start, things happened that I just didn’t see coming. This is not a complaint; this is a good thing in a horror flick. And this is the strength of the film, the jumps, gasps, and occasional “oh shit”s.  

Outdoorsy adrenaline junkie Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is joined by five of her closest friends on a trip to explore an Appalachian cave. Not just a chance for friends to hang out (literally), the trip is therapy for Sarah. A year previous she lost her husband and daughter in a horrific auto accident. She still suffers from bizarre dreams and hallucinations. But she insists she’s fine, and the rest of the group concurs. They meet up in an outdoorsy little cabin, wearing adorable, outdoorsy outfits, drinking, smoking, and catching up. The scene is reminiscent of 2003’s Dreamcatcher, all getting-back-to-nature goodwill with a Gurly, Sporty Spice twist. 

There is the odd bit of tension here and there. The plot crumbs were thrown down from the start, when earlier, we glimpsed a tender moment between Sarah’s soon to be dead husband, and gal pal Juno (Natalie Mendoza). Not like anyone was sending up flares (they’d need them later in the movie) but somewhere between microsecond longing glances – and Juno’s overly distraught reaction to Paul’s death – you pretty much knew that Juno and Sarah’s husband Paul had a thing. 

But back to the Adventure.

The next morn, bright and early, Juno rouses the hung over femme rabble to fetch axes and lanterns and appropriate cosmetics for the trek. They drive, they laugh, and they hike, and finally come to the mouth of the Cave of Wonders. No, that really wasn’t the name, they were actually supposed to be exploring Boreham Cave, which would have been a neat trick, as it’s actually located in the U.K., and not the Appalachian Trail, as was the supposed setting. 

The women all seem to be pretty capable climbers, their talent is set off in scenes such as one that shows one of the girls hauling herself across a chasm to set up a line so the rest can follow. A difficult task involving much upper body strength and a very firm grip. Not sure if it was Sam (MyAnna Buring) or Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), but as she inserts her cams and biners, she is grunting in exertion and fear. Made me glad I don’t do that kind of stuff. Even gladder, as (Sam, I think) suffered very nasty rope burns as she tried to grab and hold a falling Juno’s line. Tore right through her gloves! 

Things got even nastier when another of the team, Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) plunged down into some sort of hole, receiving a gruesome compound leg fracture. Luckily Sam is a doctor-in-training and knew what to do. Push the bloody bone back into the skin, and set the mess with an axe. Oh, and Holly couldn’t be sedated, but was given a lovely cloth to bite down on. But wait, there’s more. To sweeten the deal, they are in an unknown cave (a little surprise from Juno, who thought this would be much more fun), the tunnel that they had been traveling through collapsed, and they lost one of their rope bags. 

Sarah keeps thinking she’s seeing and hearing things. We hear the same laughing daughter that only Sarah can hear, but then we DO get a glimpse of something I can only describe as Gollum. A pale, freaky, hunched over thing is getting a drink in a little pool of nasty water. Natch, the others don’t believe her. They cite spelunking factoids about how the underground surroundings lend themselves to disorientation, hallucinations, and other cave loony experiences.

Finally the other girls do see some odd things too, older equipment left behind, and a whole crap load o’ bones.  And we all get to hear that sound. I cannot recall which horror flick has used this same exact throaty, death rattle sound. Alien? Predator? Alien VS Predator? No, wait – couldn’t be that one, I never saw that movie.  

Now, I’d love to be able to tell you what happened next. But I can’t. Not because I’m trying to be sensitive to spoilers. More that it was two nights ago, and I’m already forgetting – but mostly because Neil Marshall seems to LOVE THE DARK! Ack! Spare me those dimly lit stories where we are craning our … eyes, to see what the fuck just happened. Shapes moving, water splashing, everyone screaming, and just the smallest teases of light. 

Oh, sure there’s some sort of edgy artistic method at play – I guess. Helps build suspense, closer to realism, what EVER. I guess this just ain’t my cup o’ ginseng. No, I’m not saying the movie was a bust – I just do get a little cranky when I can’t see what THE FUCK IS GOING ON! 

But gradually, we do see stuff, plenty of stuff. Enough blood to give the Red Cross the big O (negative), lots of stabbing, whacking, crunching … and more. Gollum has friends and family too; they all join in on the hunt. A slight advantage to the girls – the Gollum-type things (called Crawlers in the credits) cannot see. That’s right, blind as a freaky, weird, Gollum type cave dwelling thing. But, they do seem to fancy using sound to hunt with. This is illustrated nicely when the sisters in the group, Rebecca and Sam are cowering in a crevice, and the creepy Crawler is just about on top of them. Then he IS on top of them, just stepping on them as if they weren’t there. Instead of feeling put down and left out, the girls realize that Crawler Dude cannot see! Victory is at hand! 

Not so fast.

Sam breathes, “He can’t see us!” A second after those words leave her mouth, the alarm on her watch starts beeping. They hear the Crawler moving back – fast, and Sam struggles to take off the bloody thing. Icky Crawler is just about on top of them, salivating; when Sam hurls the watch as far away as she can. 

I’ve never read Dante, but I wouldn’t be surprised if director Neil Marshall did. The Descent is less about mucking around in a grimy cave, and more about descending into numerous levels of hellish moments, both real and imagined. Evidently there are two versions of this film in existence, with different endings, one for the U.K. release (2005) and the second one for this August, 2006 outing. 

Either way, worth the trip to hell.    

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About MaryKay

  • SithSnoopy

    Have to say this movie totally surprised me. Didn’t see it in the theatres, saw it instead on Netflix DVD. Could pause and step through scenes where I was going, “WTF??” Could also have subtitles on, which meant I didn’t miss anything due to slight accents.

    Oh, man. Loved this flick. It had the same GOOD plot, gore but not gore just for gore’s sake, and unexpected twists… and awesome character development.

    Oh, and thanks for clearing up the Boreham Caverns thing… couldn’t figure out why googling for it in the Appalachians (spelling?) wasn’t giving me any hits, lol!!!

  • SithSnoopy

    Oh, and the sound the crawlers made… I don’t remember the sounds the Aliens made being exactly like that. And I’ve watched all the Alien movies except the 2nd Predators vs. Aliens movie.

    FYI, the first Predators vs. Aliens (Aliens vs. Predators?) movie wasn’t too bad. Liked it better than Alien 3. Of course, Alien and Aliens are the two gems of that whole series.

    How old was your son when you took him to see Descent?? That’s a pretty freaky movie for a kid to see.

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com/ Mary K. Williams

    Sith: Thanks for your comments. Funny, I had just been thinking about this movie for the first time in years. Trying to describe it to a friend. There are SO many horror movies out there, and though this one got little press – it really was pretty good. My son was 17 at the time when I took him.

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