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The Descent (Mark's take)

01/09/2006. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper

Buy The Descent in the USA - or Buy The Descent in the UK

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Seemingly expanded from some horrific images from The Hobbit, The Descent is a genuinely suspenseful adventure and horror film. Some women get lost in an unexplored cave and run into man-eating cave dwellers. But the scariest monster is the cave itself.

Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Juno (played by Natalie Mendoza) is the leader of a close-knit group of six women who go on sports adventures together. If there is a little risk involved, so much the better. They love to flirt a bit with death to feel really alive. A year earlier Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) lost her husband and daughter in a horrific road accident in Scotland that nearly took her life also.

She has taken a year to recover and her dreams are still filled with nightmarish images, many taken from her real world. Now she has recovered--mostly--and the women are going to the United States to go spelunking (cave exploring). It is not clear where the friends are from or if it even is a single country. They have a polyglot of accents, perhaps to disguise the origins of this film. The production itself is actually from the United Kingdom.

The women seem fairly expert at cave exploration, but it turns out that they have taken some bad risks. They wanted some danger but not all knew what all the risks they were taking were. Eventually they will run into more than they could have planned for including monsters. But the monsters are clearly fictional, while the troubles the women find in the cave before then are all the more scary because they do not rely on fantasy.

The most suspenseful sequence in the film--or in this film year so far-- involves nothing that could not happen in the real world. The monsters that are introduced would perhaps have been more effective a few years ago. The fact that they are in this cave and their general appearance resembles a certain character in some recent films detracts somewhat form this film.

Neil Marshall, who wrote and directed DOG SOLDIERS, writes and directs here also. And the film has more true suspense than Marshall was counting on. Unfortunately, he peppered the script with false jumps. That is the sign of a writer who is insecure that his film has enough scares. You know the sort of thing. For just an instant is seems like something really scary is happening. When you seem that sudden noise came from a flock of bats just passing by, you are supposed to heave a sigh of relief. Marshall interrupts the film several times to play little jokes on his audience.

He also faces but does not solve the problem that a big piece of the film is preparing to go underground or is going underground without a lot happening. It takes the women a while to put themselves into danger. Marshall takes this time to try to characterize his characters, but he does not get very far with it. However once things start happening, they do so quickly. Some of this is the real stuff of nightmares. It helps that it takes place in a claustrophobic and at times acrophobic setting.

The tight places probably made it difficult to film, but Sam McCurdy's cinematography seems up to the task. Occasionally the shot have to be so close up that the characters are difficult to identify. The film is sort of a role reversal. There is only one (human) male in the film. The women seem to follow the usual male macho stereotype.

Marshall seems to waste the fact that his setting is dramatic and threatening enough without the introduction of monsters. Together they make for an effective, though not great, horror film. I would rate THE DESCENT +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Mark R. Leeper

Copyright 2006 Mark R. Leeper

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