|The Descent (2006)
Starring: Shauna McDonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone
Director: Neil Marshall
Let me guess: you think you already saw this movie last year, when it was called “The Cave,” right? To that, I have two things to say: guess again, and why on earth did you see “The Cave”? That movie was terrible, but I digress. “The Descent” is one of the creepiest movies you’re going to see this year or any other, a suspenseful, claustrophobic horror flick that is like a hellish melding of “Aliens” with “The Hills Have Eyes.” Indeed, “The Descent” is everything I was hoping the recent remake of “The Hills Have Eyes” would be, and then some.
The story begins with Sarah (Shauna McDonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid) wrapping up a whitewater rafting trip, after which Sarah is involved in a horrific car accident that claims the lives of her husband and daughter. Flash forward one year, where Juno gets the gang back together, along with three other thrillseeker friends, for a climbing expedition in the Appalachian Mountains. Sarah, understandably, is still a little skittish, and her nerves are not calmed when they enter the dead-drop set of caves that Juno has found. Not only are the caves dark, narrow and barely navigable, Sarah gets the sense that something else is in the caves with them. Juno tries to convince Sarah that she is suffering post-traumatic stress, but that might be because Juno has a secret of her own with regard to these caves, and doesn’t want to acknowledge that entering the caves may have been a big mistake. Soon enough, however, the entire group receives overwhelming evidence that they are in fact not alone, and their new friends are very, very hungry.
There are two simple things about “The Descent” that I found deeply refreshing. For starters, the six women in this movie are not your typical horror movie screamers. These girls are tough, dammit, and they make quite a few of their predators pay gruesomely for their trespasses. The other refreshing aspect of the movie is the straightforward nature of the dialogue. There are no snappy Whedonesque one-liners or drawn out soliloquies, not that there’s anything wrong whatsoever with the brilliant, brilliant dialogue that Joss Whedon comes up with for his “Buffy”/”Angel”/”Firefly” characters. It’s just that it doesn’t work in this kind of environment, so thankfully we get real talk by real people (Holly, the Irish girl, of course says ‘fuck’ a lot). Oh, I thought of a third simple thing: there’s no nudity. A lesser movie would have had at least one of these girls stripping to their skivvies (think Saffron Burrows in “Deep Blue Sea”), but writer/director Neil Marshall, wisely, plays it straight.
And by straight, I mean unbelievably gory. This movie is a gorehound’s wet dream, between the eating and the stabbing and the gouging and the skull-meets-rock encounters, not to mention one scene that made everyone in attendance groan in sympathy for the victim in question (despite the fact that it doesn’t kill her). Marshall shoots the action in a way that’s disorienting, but not incoherent, and the actresses are game for whatever comes their way. Sure, it has its cliché moments, like the pose-for-the-timed-camera shot early on, which will no doubt be the world’s last evidence of all six women alive at the same time. And there’s also the very last shot of the movie, which in this reviewer’s mind isn’t remotely possible. Still, we go along with the ride because the women, despite playing certain personality types, are not stereotypes, and there’s a big difference between the two. I’ve read on other sites that the movie is an allegory of the battle of the sexes, but screw that. It’s a freaky deaky horror movie, not a grad school thesis.
“The Descent” is one of those rare horror movies that doesn’t try to reinvent a genre – let’s face it, everything’s pretty much been done already – but tries to improve on one, and succeeds beyond its wildest dreams. For anyone who felt as though the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes” did not live up to its expectations, do I have a movie for you. But no matter your status as a gorehound, I would recommend seeing “The Descent” in the daytime, because the feeling of the sun on your flesh as you walk out of the theater will cheer you up in ways that you had heretofore never imagined. Seriously.
At last, America can see the darker but better ending on the unrated version of the DVD (it’s less a change than a lengthening), along with several deleted and extended scenes. Director Neil Marshall does commentaries with both cast and crew, the former of which is quite entertaining. There is even a blooper reel (which is rare for a horror movie) that includes the Mick Jagger of crawlers. There is also a lengthy featurette, an interview with Marshall, storyboards and stills.