After losing her husband and young daughter in a horrific and grisly automobile accident, a young woman named Sarah attempts to climb out of the pit of despair she has been languishing in for over a year by joining a group of her close female friends on one of their annual adventure-seeking expeditions. Sarah’s friend Juno, the unofficial leader of the sexy sextet, has arranged for the group to go spelunking in a remote cave hidden deep in the Appalachians.
Staying the night in some rented cabins, the group of women set off the following day for their distant destination — which Juno assures them will be both exhilarating and challenging. Unbeknownst to the others, Juno, in an attempt to up the adventure quotient, is leading them into an unmapped and unnamed cave system. Initially, this seems of no major consequence for a group whose motto is, “If there’s no risk, what’s the point?” However, the danger-laden cave will indeed test the mettle of these risk-takers, and moreover, something with a taste for human flesh, alive and lurking in the cave’s dank darkness, might very well claim their lives.
Having already been released throughout Europe to great acclaim, The Descent is a horror film that fully deserves its lauded status, and unquestionably establishes writer/director Neil Marshall as one of horror cinema’s best and most promising new directors. At the screening I attended, the audience collectively, and repeatedly, jumped and gasped throughout the film — especially throughout The Descent’s unnerving last half. Without a doubt, The Descent is an uncompromisingly tense, heart-bursting exercise in horror filmmaking that should also make a big splash on this side of the pond.
In addition to the film’s visceral visual assault, the script (written by Marshall over a two-year period and numbering over ten drafts) is a compact but wholly satisfying horror yarn with some decently written characters that pull you into the story and their terrifying plight. At times six characters seems perhaps two too many, yet, overall the script fleshes the main characters out pretty well, giving them story arcs which eventually pay off. It’s also worth mentioning that the story takes its time setting itself up; in fact, the “horror" dimension of The Descent doesn’t bare its blood-soaked fangs until nearly forty minutes into the film. Nevertheless, The Descent is rarely boring or tedious and makes good use of its “slow” build, escalating tension as it creeps its way towards the memorably fright-filled, gore-strewn second half.