The Descent

The Descent ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I only banged this on late last night because a Twitter pal was watching and tweeting about how great it was. His words reminded me how much I rated it, and on a 4th or 5th rewatch, I still would rank it alongside any of the classics from any era. Enough time has passed by now for me.

Neil Marshall's sophomore follow-up to the tremendously fun Dog Soldiers is a different beast. Gone is a largely male cast to be replaced by a female one, gone are the constant laughs. What remains are a group of people trying to survive the elements in the wilderness, strange otherworldly creatures and a succession of expertly crafted jump scares.

Before we get into the meaning of the title of the film, which can be interpreted a number of ways, we are introduced to half of the cast of the film. A sense of dread almost immediately sets in as we see Sarah, Juno & Beth whitewater rafting on fairly extreme rapids. Sarah is met by her husband and child as Juno looks on with an awkward gaze. I would say Juno is the most interesting character in this film, but is given stiff competition.

Horrible and still very scary tragedy befalls Sarah in the car and then she begins her metaphorical descent. Fast forward a year and we get the literal version as the three friends are joined by three others to go and do a spelunk. Or to other untrained ears, go deep into the Appalachian woods and then just as deep into an uncharted hole in the earth. 5 out of 6 of the women are unaware it's uncharted of course. Juno.

As the stakes are inevitably raised as fairly mundane problems like getting lost and getting injured hinder the group, a couple of glimpses of something strange give way to a quite fantastic reveal of a bloodthirsty beast. Halfway into the film when it's been largely dialogue based with only hints of genre, we are plunged, much like the spelunkers, into a fast-paced and extreme survival horror. The character mechanics have been well thought out and as the body count rises, each big moment is felt.

Everything centres around Sarah and Juno's relationship. Hints have been laid out of Juno's year-old treachery, and as Sarah picks up the pieces, rightly and arguably wrongly, the dynamics are changed and the blind beasts are not the only threat of painful death.

A truly masterful concoction of scares, paranoia, claustrophobia and gore.

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