The Descent

The Descent is currently available on Amazon Prime.

The Descent (2005) – Rated R

“One year after a tragic accident, six girlfriends meet in a remote part of the Appalachians for their annual caving trip. Deep below the surface of the earth, disaster strikes when a rock falls and blocks their route back to the surface. The group splinters and each push on, praying for another exit. But there is something else lurking under the earth – a race of monstrous humanoid creatures that are adapted perfectly to life in the dark. As the friends realize they are now prey, they are forced to unleash their most primal instincts in an all-out war against an unspeakable horror – one that attacks without warning, again and again and again.”

“I’m an English teacher, not f#$%ing Tomb Raider. “

The Descent earns a no-brainer nod on any best horror movie list. When I was growing up, Night of the Living Dead scared me on late night television. As a teenager, Halloween and Alien scared me in the theater. After that no movie really scared me until The Descent. Now watching it on television is not likely to scare you but it is still a wonderful movie.

Neil Marshall burst on to the horror scene in 2002, writing, directing and editing the excellent, if overly British, werewolf saga Dog Soldiers. In 2005, he wrote and directed The Descent, a brilliant concept brilliantly executed. He had a misfire with the apocalyptic Doomsday (2008) but then made a fantastic adventure yarn, Centurion (2010), starring Michael Fassbender.

The story, as written by Neil Marshall, is powerful and, apart from a brief role, features only women. Thankfully it is not the generic women of the slasher genre but real complex characters with a range of emotions.

I think the only thing I do not like about The Descent is that it is set in my beloved Appalachians but not filmed here and it shows. That is such a minor quibble. The faux Appalachians are disposed of fairly quickly as most of the movie takes place underground.

The actresses are all impressive. Shauna MacDonald (Sam in M.I. 5) is our grieving Sarah that everyone would like to cheer up. Natalie Mendoza (China Doll in Moulin Rouge) is the adventurous Juno. Juno and Sarah’s complicated relationship is at the heart of The Descent and adds quite a bit of tension and resonance to their scenes.

The other four ladies are equally impressive and are also quite interconnected. Nora Jane Noone is Juno’s thrillseeking friend Holly. Alex Reid is Sarah’s other best friend, Beth. MyAnna Buring (Tanya in Breaking Dawn) plays Sam and Saskia Mulder plays Rebecca. Other than a brief scene at the beginning, that is the entire cast (not counting the actors playing creatures).

The focus in The Descent is entirely on the women. The creatures are quite well done as is the violence but, apart from a few shadowy scenes for the sharp-eyed, the creatures do not show up until the halfway point. Once they do, it is an exhausting rollercoaster ride straight through to the end.

Sequel-itis: In spite of the British and American versions having two completely different endings, The Descent spawned a sequel. Taken by itself the sequel is pretty entertaining but it pales in comparison to the original.