The Descent

Release date: August 4, 2006

Director: Neil Marshall

Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone, Oliver Milburn and Molly Kayll

Have you ever had to wait in an annoyingly long line for a ride at an amusement park? But the ride made up for it, because it was that good? That is probably how you will feel if you watch The Descent.

The Descent as I've said takes it sweet ass time getting to the actual story, and that's something I'm seeing more of these days in films like Wolf Creek and Hostel. This could end up being a good thing. I'm not just a gore-hound and I've got no problem getting involved in the characters who are about to meet their Horror and doom - just as long as there is story to the characterization and not too much annoying filler.

Watching The Descent took me by surprise more than a few times. It starts out with a water river rafting scene that takes place in Scotland, where the three friends - all women - negotiate currents to get to their destination. There is interest here, but then you find out that this entire scene has nothing to do with the actual movie. Sarah, who, a year later, is still trying deal with the deaths of her husband and child. She follows her friend, Beth, one of the women who was with her on the rafting trip, to the U.S. and the Appalachian Mountains. There they meet up with the third part of the earlier river rafting trio, Juno and three other women, all of whom are old friends of the trio whom we haven't met, up to this point. Juno has brought everyone together for a new "adventure": a wild cave in the Appalachian mountains. Wild caves are the caves that haven't been made safe with steps, guardrails etc. You have to bring gear and safety equipment as well as be prepared for anything.

Except in this cave, there is more anything than anything the women had imagined.

Writer Director Neil Marshall (Killing Time, Dog Soldiers) takes a lot of time just getting us to the cave, let alone all the Horror that awaits. Then again, Marshall makes it clear in his pacing that he couldn't care less about your patience. If you want dessert, you'll have to eat your dinner. Personally, I think this builds to the suspense and respect his choice to take his time.

We finally get to the cave and Marshall keeps the interest alive by giving us cramped visuals of the inside of the cave. He makes it clear that caves are totally dark - the darkest thing any human will ever know. and the rest of the film is lit only by the headlamps of the cavers, their very dim glow sticks, or the occassional flare.

An inopportune, but wholly believable cave in (cave-ins frequently happen in caves, hence the name), blocks the group from going back the way they came and forces them to try and find an alternate route back to the surface. Soon after, the horror finally begins to occur.

That there are unknown, deadly creatures that live in the cave is a something you easily find out from viewing trailer. What makes this movie smarter than, say, The Cave (which was a decent movie), is the fact that the varmint's ability to live in absolute darkness, reproduce, have some semblance of varmint society, as well as a food source (extremely scarce for large meat eating cave creatures), is covered in a way that is not only logical, but adds to the Horror. Even better is that the entire explanation is done with the economy of a handful of seconds, all Show Don't Tell, which these days, is an achievement in itself!

But what's important here is the Horror and this film about a dark cave shines. Caves are nothing but twists and turns, long narrow passages, claustrophobic tunnels, and dead ends. Combined with the darkness and the fact that the creatures who dwell inside are in their environment, and have jumps at any moment througout the movie. The pressure of trying to make their way to safety, just within a cave alone, is harrowing, combine that with the monsters that are hunting them for food and you've got a horrifying movie.

Gore abounds in THE DESCENT, and yet it isn't gratuitous. For the first time in a long time, the gore actually makes the scares.

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