It is not often a horror film approaches the genre with complete sincerity. Most often times there is gratuitous gore and unnecessary nudity (not complaining) to let us all know that we are in fact watching a horror. This is typically due to the flimsy script and the director’s inability to tell a complete story without giving the audience eye candy to distract them from the horrible movie they are watching. Lately we have had a few exceptions with films like Saw and Wolf Creek. These are films that revel in their attempt at making a horror movie as real as it can be, all while giving horror fans what they want in the way of violence and scares. Films like Hostel and The Hills Have Eyes are certainly fantastic horror films, but they are both a couple of horrors that seem to buck the splatterhouse mold by telling a fun and engaging story while giving us the gross out gore, and in Hostel‘s case, “nudity,” that we are always asking for.
By comparison The Descent is more along the lines of a Wolf Creek and Saw as it establishes itself as a film set in reality, but it crosses horror lines when we are introduced to cave dwelling terror that provides the splatterhouse effect we crave. If you are wondering how it stacks up to the films I just mentioned, The Descent eats them for breakfast, as a matter of fact this is one of the best horror films I have ever seen.
Featuring an all female cast we follow a group of six girlfriends who are on their way to their latest excursion into the wild as they set out to do a bit of spelunking. This group of ladies can probably best be described as mild thrill seekers. I say mild because they don’t exactly go out willy nilly and they do approach their target with a certain amount of preparation, but this time things are a bit different. The leader of the group, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), has taken the girls to a different cave than they had actually planned for, an unexplored cave she was hoping they could actually explore and name as their own. Not a horrible idea on most days, but this cave is not the cave you want to find yourself in, especially after a rock slide blocks your only known pathway back to the entrance, a scene that is truly suffocating. As the rocks begin to fall and Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) begins to panic you have to take a moment to catch your own breath, a sensation I have never before felt watching a film. My heart actually began to race as my mind kept shouting, “Get that girl out of that crawl space!”
With the path blocked they must now go deeper into the underground cave system in an effort to find another way out, but the further they go the more the danger grows as a mysterious group of creatures lives here. A group of creatures, who have adapted to the darkness, operate on sound and eat whatever is found in front of them. A series of missteps has the girls running for their lives as hell bores down on them in the mysterious caverns beneath the earth.
The plot is simple, it is the story in between points A and B that keeps you going as director Neil Marshall always has you guessing which way the movie is going to go next. I also have to give kudos to Marshall for using an all female cast and managing not to include any nudity. This is not because I don’t want nudity, but it shows that this is a horror movie that stands on thrills as opposed to satisfying an appeal for prurient interests. However, on the gore side this one doesn’t hold back, not to the point that it is gratuitous, but to the point that horror fans will be more than satisfied.
Plenty of early buzz has compared The Descent to Alien, and for good reason… they are highly similar in their scare tactics and the effectiveness of said tactics. Ultimately the creature in the dark is coming to get you, but you don’t know from where and stopping it is going to be troublesome if not impossible. Marshall shies away from phony camera tricks and presents the film as if it were reality and this technique sells the dread, as opposed to the PG-13 supernatural thrillers we have come so accustomed. The Descent is a horror movie with teeth that sink into you and don’t let go until the final frame.
The Descent will stick with you and fans of the genre are certainly going to want to see it in theaters, most likely more than once.