Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Creepy Crawling: The Descent (2005) Review

Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza), and Beth (Alex Reid) are a trio of care free adventurers until their world is turned upside down by the sudden death of Sarah's husband and daughter in a tragic accident. A year after the accident Juno decides to get the band back together and organises a caverning expedition in the Appalachian Mountains for the trio and another three friends. Seeds of doubt about Juno's true intentions are sown early and it's not long before the expedition turns pear shaped. The six women find themselves lost in an uncharted cave system, and the seemingly neurotic Sarah believes they are not alone.

I've seen so many horror movies, and am so accustomed to all the techniques used to shock audiences it's pretty rare for jump scares to catch me off guard these days. Such is the talent of Neil Marshall, however, that I damn near leapt through the back of my seat on more than one occasion whilst watching The Descent.

But there's more than just well orchestrated "boo" moments on offer here. The claustrophobic nature of crawling through caves is so well captured you almost feel like you’re stuck in these ridiculously confined spaces right along with the women. With the way Marsall shoots this film, merely being stuck in these caves is creepy enough, but when the real threat to the women’s life emerges The Descent really ratchets up the tension.

Some might complain about the weak characterisations (particularly of the three additional friends) but we get enough of an insight into the principle characters of Sarah and Juno to care about what happens to them.

Another thing that impressed me about this film was the lighting. Too often in horror movies when there is no logical no source of light, film-makers light the scene anyway (check out the little known New Zealand horror film The Locals for the absolute worst example of what I'm talking about). In a pitch black cavern the only light that should exist is the light from the girls' torches, flares and glow sticks. Marshall mostly adheres to this, which is commendable given the number of horror films that don't.

After the cooler than cool Dog Soldiers it was great to see such a promising director follow up with what is arguably an even better film.

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