The Descent

The Descent ★★★★½

Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic Metascore: 71
IMDB: 7.2


Release Date: 04 August 2006
Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Budget: $3.5M
Worldwide Gross: $57.1M
Total Film Awards: 8

Juno: "It hasn't got a name. It's a new system. I wanted us all to discover it! No one's ever been down here before."

SYNOPSIS: A caving expedition goes horribly wrong, as the explorers become trapped and ultimately pursued by a strange breed of predators.

If nightmare-inducing horror is not your bag then the less you know about The Descent the better. Geordie writer-director Neil Marshall has delivered an accomplished, well-acted, out and out horror movie that comes as much of a pleasant surprise as his first major feature Dog Soldiers did back in 2002.

TRIVIA: Every actress in the group is from a different country: Shauna Macdonald (Sarah) was raised in Scotland but born in Malaysia; Natalie Mendoza (Juno) comes from Hong Kong and lived all over the world; Alex Reid (Beth) was born in England; Saskia Mulder (Rebecca) is from the Netherlands; MyAnna Buring (Sam) is originally from Sweden before moving to Great Britain, and Nora-Jane Noone (Holly) comes from Ireland.

Shot in a mere 7 weeks, the Descent sees a sextet of undeniably attractive action women leaping headfirst into an Appalachian spelunking adventure that goes wrong so quickly you are left wondering if any one of them will survive, let alone ever see daylight again.

There are comparisons to be drawn to Marshall's ' Dog Soldiers of course - again the story is stark and wonderfully economic. Again there is a group of six people, predominantly one sex accompanied with a lurking, ominous threat, and again, there are more nods to popular film culture than you probably realize. The Descent however has a sense of humor that is suitably pitch black.

TRIVIA: Director Neil Marshall first chose to have a dark cave as the setting for his horror film, then decided to add the element of the crawlers, describing them as "something that could get the women, something human, but not quite". The crawlers were depicted as cavemen who never left the caves and evolved in the dark. The director included mothers and children in the colony of creatures, defining his vision, "It is a colony and I thought that was far more believable than making them the classic monsters. If they had been all male, it would have made no sense, so I wanted to create a more realistic context for them. I wanted to have this very feral, very primal species living underground, but I wanted to make them human. I didn't want to make them aliens because humans are the scariest things."

Long before the cave appears we play witness to a traumatic event that underlies the plot and serves to both unite and tear apart relationships in equal measure. Mostly affected are fragile Sarah and physically strong Juno, an adrenaline junkie who leads the group further and further beneath the ground. No time is wasted in recreating the primal feel of crawling through tunnels with hard hats scraping the dust from the rocks, choking and inducing paranoia all the way as it lingers in the stale, torchlit air. It's here Marshall gets a little inventive.

TRIVIA: Neil Marshall cited the films The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Thing (1982), and Deliverance (1972) as influences in establishing tension in the film. The director elaborated, "We really wanted to ramp up the tension slowly, unlike all the American horror films you see now. They take it up to 11 in the first few minutes and then simply can't keep it up. We wanted to show all these terrible things in the cave: dark, drowning, claustrophobia. Then, when it couldn't get any worse, make it worse." Marshall also said at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival that he was inspired by Italian horror films of the past, in particular, those by Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.

Playing with various different lighting techniques our heroines become color-coded through scenes via glow-sticks, flashlights, and video cameras. Sounds echo when visuals are briefly lost and deliciously bone-crunching they are too.

TRIVIA: Director Neil Marshall initially wanted to pass on the project, having just done another horror movie with Dog Soldiers (2002). He later reconsidered since both movies were nothing alike, and he decided to cast an all-female group of protagonists in contrast to the normally male-dominated horror genre. He consulted with his female friends to avoid clichés and define their personalities, and chose actresses with a wide array of accents to give the film a more cosmopolitan film.

A cave-in traps them with no way to retrace their steps, but don't yet know that a terrible fate lurks around the tunnel's next bend. The film is reminiscent of "The Lost Patrol" as the ladies band together as much as they can against a ghoulish and unseen foe, with each girl's nerves pushed to the breaking point. Events escalate quickly and the whole ride becomes what can only be described as a non-stop relentless assault on the senses that will demand repeated viewing.

TRIVIA: Shauna Macdonald was slightly claustrophobic, so she found it easy to act scared and panicky while underground.

The only thing that will ruin this movie for those who may not have seen this yet is word of mouth, which is exactly what this film benefitted from during its initial release as it quickly became a commercially viable hit recouping a massive return from its 3.5M budget. For those who haven't seen it yet, the less you know, the more you will enjoy it. Have fun spotting references to Carrie and Apocalypse Now by all means, but don't be fooled into thinking this is a mere standard entry into the much-saturated genre-movie staple.

TRIVIA: Twenty-one separate cave sets were built for the film. These were carefully reused with different camera angles, set dressing and lighting to suggest a nearly endless collection of interconnected tunnels and caverns. For realism, the makers often limited the lighting of the sets to light sources that the protagonists brought with them, such as flashlights, helmet lights, and light sticks.

The movie's dark, claustrophobic look adds realism to the ghastly dangers that young women face and the music score is equally effective. The girls have several encounters with the predators underground and use torches and climbing gear to fight off their attackers.

TRIVIA: At director Neil Marshall's insistence, all the people playing the villainous "crawlers" were professional actors rather than stuntmen or dancers. He wanted them to cultivate a distinct character for their crawler, although, in the finished film, many crawlers only appear for a few seconds.

The Descent will rank as one of the most unashamedly terrifying British films ever made. It was made by people that love good cinema, and it shows. The Descent was made before The Cave, and now has an alternate ending for new audiences.

DIRECTOR: Neil Marshall
WRITER: Neil Marshall
FILMING LOCATIONS: Perth and Kincross, Scotland
FILMING LOCATIONS: Hertfordshire - Buckinghamshire, England

I found the environment of The Descent to be completely flawless. I genuinely can't think of anything scarier or more effective for this movie. The gloomy, damp, maze-like caves play host to some truly frightening things, both physically and psychologically. To top it all off, rest assured that Marshall never shies away from giving us some good splatter-action.

TRIVIA: The appearance of the creatures was kept secret from the cast members until the first scene in which they encounter them was filmed. When the cast was finally filming the scene where the girls encounter the crawlers, the girls were genuinely scared and screamed the building down, running off the set and laughing.

The acting by these newcomers to mainstream cinema is remarkably impressive, as with a group of 5 women one would expect either an ultra feminist-like macho-ism or nudity and helpless screaming. Nope, not here. This Neil Marshall gem gives you realistic characters with pasts and actual human reactions. Without giving anything away, the ending was one of the most well-made parts of the film.

TRIVIA: The "crawlers" were designed to resemble Nosferatu from the film Nosferatu (1922). They also had huge white eyes to begin with, but this idea was done away with because they looked too silly. It took three and a half hours in makeup to transform an actor into a "crawler." They had to shave off their body hair as well.

A horror film's atmosphere is often what separates the dull and predictable horror fares from the best of the best, and this film definitely falls into the latter category. While a strong sense of innocence and amusement is present early on, what little remains as the film progresses is smashed in a satisfying, bloody fashion. The film throws you right inside the caves with the six women and makes you feel just as claustrophobic and scared as they are. This is what truly separates it from the rest of the field and makes it an all-time classic that deserves being mentioned in the same breath as other claustrophobic classics such as 'Alien' and 'The Thing'.

TRIVIA: The filmmakers considered it too dangerous to film in an actual cave. It also would have been far too time-consuming, so they opted to build one instead.

Not only would I consider this to be the best horror film of 2006, but among my top 5 horror films of all time. With scenes reminiscent of "The Shining" and "The Thing," and the producers relying upon old school conventional horror methods to thrill its audience, this movie will literally scare the hell out of you.

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Fact-Checking / TRIVIA Source: IMDb

Stay safe my friends.

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