The Descent
Something tells me that isn’t cherry pie filling she’s swimming in.

Theatrical Release Date: 07/08/2005 (UK), 08/04/2006 (USA)
Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone, Craig Conway

OK, so all throughout my long and illustrious scary movie reviewing career, I have been comparing films to this one so it is only fair that I get around to reviewing it. After rewatching the film, I feel prepared to do it some kind of justice here.

“The Descent” is a film about Sarah, Juno, and Beth (Macdonald, Mendoza, and Reid), a trio of British adventure seekers that drift apart after Sarah’s life is destroyed during a catastrophic accident. A year later, they get back together with a few other friends in tow (Mulder, Buring, and Noone) to go spelunking in a North Carolina cavern system. As things quickly go awry, the women are met with increasingly dangerous obstacles, until eventually they are fighting for their lives against malevolent subterranean creatures.

The filmmakers did everything right with this one. Their use of the setting was brilliant. I recently wrote a review for “Wolf Creek” that lauded their use of the desolate Australian Outback as a second antagonist in the film. “The Descent” went one step further. I could have watched a movie just about the perils of caving alone- it was so claustrophobic and tense even before the baddies showed up.

The pacing was great as well. They do take the time at the beginning to set up the character’s relationships, but that is absolutely necessary for later plot points. The close quarters lend for great shocks, and the minimal score really keeps you in the movie. A good horror film shouldn’t need loud musical “cheap shots” to be effective, and this one shows that.

The primary antagonists in the film are well executed. They move smoothly and sound incredibly creepy. Conway and his fellow “crawlers” are intense and terrifying. They are bloodthirsty and soulless, but also capable of being killed. I find them all the more terrifying for that, because it makes them seem possible.

Who knows what lurks in uncharted caverns? These women can potentially defeat them one on one, but how many are out there?

Which brings me to the point that takes this film up into 5 territory. These women are not your average scream queens. They are athletic, capable, intelligent, and level-headed.

Woe to the drunken frat boy that tries to grope one of these ladies- he would certainly pull back a stump! Every single one puts up as good of a fight as they could under their own individual circumstances. At least a few of them also take out not one, but several of the creatures single-handedly.

In fact, while the danger is indeed real, at some points the women and the choices they make are more perilous than the creatures they face. This adds a great psychological dynamic to the film- how much can you withstand while hanging on to your own humanity?

So, do I have any problems with this film? Sure, there are some minor issues, but I am hard-pressed to name them. I do have one hy-yuge problem. The original ending was scrapped for North American audiences, because the test audiences thought it was too depressing.

Depressing???!!!

DEPRESSING???!!!

It is a HORROR movie, for goodness sake! What do they expect, sunshine and kittens? There isn’t much sunshine two miles below the surface of the Earth, and any kittens in this film were eaten by the crawlers. The rest of the world must think we are wussies. Somebody shoot me.

Believe it or not, even this worked out OK. In theaters, I saw the wussified ending, but the Netflix version was original and uncut (Yay!). As a result, I was able to compare the two versions, and while I preferred the original ending, both were interesting in their own ways. They also allowed viewers to use their own imaginations to decide what really happened.

So anyway, I am done gushing. I just think this is one of the best horror films I have ever seen. When I originally saw it with Audrey Hess, she cowered throughout, so I think she liked it too. If you want a truly frightening film that stays with you, terrifies without cheap tricks, and lends itself to conversation, give this one a shot. Just don’t watch it alone late at night (especially not in a cave). I give it 5 out of 5. Bravo to the Brits!