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Movie Review: The Descent

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Editor's Note: Since Iloz Zoc is unable to attend the opening day, I asked One-Eyed Willy to see The Descent. Perhaps that was not such a good idea in hindsight, but here is his review.

"Dude," said Mr. Blackbird. His illuminated plumage blinded me. It pulsated in kaleidoscopic colors that shot out rays of reds, greens, and blues.

"What," I said. My vision was hazy, and my voice sounded dull, like I was talking under water.

"Dude," he repeated, and said something else, but I couldn't make it out. It just sounded like tweeting. What a funny blackbird. With red human lips he kept repeating something, but it just sounded like tweet, tweet, tweet. His pinky finger — wow, crazy, the bird's got a little white hand at the tip of his wing — had a little gold ring. What was that he was repeating? Door of indigo and blues across the street, across my way. What was that? You want me to knock a rap in ones, threes, and twos, with these knuckles of mine. On that door of indigo and blues?

"DUDE! Wake up!"

I shot awake. "What happened?" I looked up at PegLeg Pete. He was bending down looking at me. The last thing I remember was sitting in the theatre watching The Descent. I asked PegLeg to tag along because I hate cave films. I hate caves. I hate tight places that remotely look like caves, and the whole damn idea about squeezing your ass through narrow cracks in rock walls that I couldn't even fit my pecker through is stupid and insane.

"Man, what the hell happened to you?" he said. "You started screaming like a transvestite and jumped out of your seat. You ran to the concession stand screaming 'Don't eat the Milk Duds, it's people! Milk Duds is people!' You scared the shit out of me. Crazy bastard." PegLeg looked at his watch. "Great, man. Just 'effin great. Just when it was getting good, too. Look, the next show is in a half-hour. With you or without you, I'm seeing the 'effin movie."

With PegLeg's help, I managed to sit through the entire film this time. It wasn't easy. I kept closing my eyes, but what I did see was white knuckle-busting horror that took it's time to build, then whumps you over the head until you can't take it anymore. Sam McCurdy's cinematography is spot-on, and walks a fine line between darkness and light. Just like you were in a cave — pitch black mostly, with only your electric or flare light to feebly illuminate your way.

The DescentNeil Marshall's direction and writing tricks you at first. You don't think it's a horror film. Hell, the damn thing starts off like an Ingmar Bergman movie. I kept wondering when Max von Sydow would show up and play chess with dusty Death himself. It opens on a happy note, quickly takes that away from you, and never lets up until the end. The music is also more elaborate than your typical horror film, and it wisely stays out of the way in the most important parts.

And those parts are killer.

Six highly-testosteroned women love to take chances. Their athletic leader by consensus, Juno, pushes the envelope for them, just so they never get bored. She's what you would call a bitch; but a hot one at that, and physically flexible to die for. So off they go on another adventure, only this time, she thinks they should really go on a dare. Only she doesn't bother to let the other five babes know about it. Bingo! The cardinal rule of a good horror film is potential victims always muck it up by doing downright dangerously stupid things. In this case, that includes exploring an unfamiliar cave, not telling anyone outside the cave about it, and not bringing Twinkies along. Downright shameful behavior it is. And lethal, too. Had they at least brought the Twinkies, those cannibalistic naked guys with the sharp teeth would have left them alone. Guaranteed.

But before we even get to the cave and the cannibals, there's relationships to consider, and secrets not to share. A violent accident brings those relationships and secrets to the forefront, and from there the terror begins. There's a J-Horror pacing to the film; Marshall takes his time, dwells on the six women, their camaraderie, their personalities, then shakes them all up once they hit the cave. Just how close are they really? And how much do they really know about each other?

The DescentThat's what's tested in the cave. The cannibalistic sub-human troglodytes crawling around the cave's walls are only part of the horror. Okay, yes, a really big part of it. But the reality of being trapped in a cave, where it's pitch black, damn awfully stuffy, with no guide book — and you didn't pack any Twinkies — well, my friend, that's horror done to a masterful level.

Don't let me spoil it for you, but the cave scenes are all smoke and mirrors. That's right; miniatures, model sets, and blue screen are so skillfully used, you'll be huffing and puffing and gasping for breadth without realizing it. After you see the film — assuming you can sit through the whole thing — you'll be saying "Hey, One-Eyed Willy, you're pulling my leg." But truth be told, I'm not.

You'll start to feel the theatre walls closing in on you when the girls start crawling through a narrow passageway on their elbows and shins. That's where I lost it the first time. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place. And when they dangle over a chasm that drops down all the way to China, in the pitch blackness, by their fingertips, I'll bet even money you'll be kicking the back of someone's chair and squirming in your theatre seat.

The DescentThe tension builds until they stumble into the cannibalistic crawlers' equivalent of a McDonald's. That's when we find out if the girls really do know each other, or even know themselves for that matter.

The struggle for survival is fast and furious, and filled with shocks. In true horror movie fashion, panic sets in and the only well-knit social group turns out to be those disgusting — vegetables-what's-that? — cave crawlers. The makeup job is horrific, and the annoying habit they have of slobbering mucousy gobs out of their mouths will — well, you better hold the buttered popcorn for another movie, that's all I'm saying.

This is one intense horror movie you should see on an empty stomach. But keep a box of Twinkies handy for later. Trust me, you'll need them.

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About ILoz Zoc

  • duane

    Thanks for the excellent review. The walls started closing in on me as I read. There’s probably some Freudian explanation for our fear of crawling through a dark cramped passage, but I don’t really want to go there.

  • For the life of me, I was thinking about the Freudian bit; maybe it has to do with birth or something, but you’re right–don’t want to touch that one. It’ll take a braver soul than me.

  • Ty

    Here is a link to the original ending, which can be viewed on youtube.