The Descent - 2005
Director(s): Neil Marshall
Writer(s): Neil Marshall
Cinematography by: Sam McCurdy
Editor(s): Jon Harris
Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring and Nora-Jane Noone.
Synopsis: A caving expedition goes horribly wrong, as the explorers become trapped and ultimately pursued by a strange breed of predators (IMDB).
This movie came out around a time (2000-2006) that I was starting to lose faith in horror movies. Not that there weren’t any good horror movies (28 Days Later, The Others and Shaun of the Dead come to mind), I just wasn’t scared by them. Not even a bit tense. But when I stumbled upon this movie I was pleasantly surprised at how tensed up and involved I was with the plot. It could be that I have a phobia of getting trapped in a cave or a small pathway, which is heavily featured throughout the runtime, or simply that writer-director Neil Marshall delivered a great, tension-filled runtime with multiple effective jump scares.
The story follows a group of friends planning their latest adventure: cave exploring. This trip comes a year after the tragic events of one of the members where she lost her husband and daughter, which is something that looms over our protagonist and informs her choices. After a tunnel collapses within the cave system, they find themselves trying to survive amongst a strange breed of human/bat creatures hungry for their flesh.
One of the stronger aspects from Marshall’s script were the characters. While they show distress and fear during their situation, they are far from being damsels in distress. All of them showcase their survival skills, from understanding how to explore the cave to knowing how to defend themselves against the creatures attacking them. They also had a lot of chemistry and tension amongst them, in part due to their situation and in part due to their past experiences. The climax of the movie is great as the two leads have a moment that always gets me, since I have knee issues and body horror is always an easy way to get to me.
Marshall and cinematographer Sam McCurdy implemented great camera movements and placement, which helped build tension as the audience was always waiting for the next scare to appear out of nowhere. With the creatures being blind and hunting with sound, like bats, every noise and scream is another source of tension for the audience. This movie is also shot beautifully with multiple sequences lit by the red flares the group uses to light their way through the cave. The red light adds to the tension and dread as it feels they are making their way through hell.
Quick note: along with the red lighting, for most of the third act our lead is covered in blood, making her bright blue stir-crazy eyes pop, adding to her descent into madness.
The Descent features a great all female cast that delivers all the way through. Our lead, Shauna Macdonald, sells her fear and anger to the point that you buy into her decisions in the climax. While it leans a little too much on jump scares, most of them are earned thanks to the tension created throughout the runtime. It does have a weak and somewhat unexplainable ending that hinders it a bit, but if you chose to end the movie as soon as you see the hand come out of the ground, it’s a great horror movie. Neil Marshall showcased a great eye for tension and character development, something that has helped him with his career ever since. Knowing he is behind the Hellboy reboot helps me swallow that pill a bit easier. Marshall is why I love movies.
The Descent is streaming on Netflix. Go watch it.
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