A hidden gem.
The Descent is one of those rare horror films that reminds us of the possibilities of the genre. Neil Marshall’s directing here is quite good. We follow a group of friends who try to come back together after a horrid tragedy.
Shauna Macdonald plays Sarah, and we meet her with her friends who are into extreme sports. On their way back from another trip, Sarah’s husband and daughter die in a car accident. The segments along here are done well, and establish the characters in a thorough way. After a short twenty minutes, it seems that we truly understand the characters.
One year after the car crash, Sarah meets up with her old friends (and at least one new one) to go cave exploring. Here is where the primary plot of the film begins in earnest. This film can be broken into two halves. Depending on how one feels about the twist in the second half will greatly affect how much they enjoy the overall experience.
The first half of the film focuses on the dangers of cave exploring. While this sport is obviously dangerous, the organizer of this event Juno (played by Natalie Mendoza) chooses an unexplored cave. Whether Juno chose the cave so “they could all name it” or it was purely out of arrogance (or a mixture of both) is not entirely clear. Predictably, things go awry once a cave collapses and traps them deep underneath the surface. They must now push on to find a new way out.
The simple fear of being trapped underground makes for an interesting drama. They find evidence of previous explorers, and this shows that perhaps there is no way out—otherwise the cave system would have been named. Complicating things even further is that two of the women are injured, one severely.
In an equal parts odd and bold decision, the film introduces flesh eating cave dwelling monsters. These creatures look like a human/bat hybrid and they relentlessly attack the women. I will not discuss the ending here, but this turn in the film changes the dynamic from a slow burning horror film to a fast-paced gorefest. The Descent does a good job with the balance, but there are some odd decisions among the characters towards the end (which I will not discuss here due to spoilers).
Further, does the shift signify a change in genre? The trailers for the film spoiled the existence of the monsters, so I don’t know how many people enjoyed the slower aspects. By that, I mean if one was wanting monsters the whole time, they might have been let down.
Overall, the film is solid. The characters feel real, and the directing, sound, and sets all add to a claustrophobic atmosphere. Some of the shots seem rushed, but others take full advantage of the setting. This film represents something that should be a staple in any horror collection. It is also probably in the top twenty horror films of the last twenty years. 8.75/10