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The Descent

A movie directed by Neil Marshall

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Voyage Into the Deep Dark.

  • Sep 13, 2006
A group of female friends meet each year for a weekend of outdoor adventuring. After a weekend of white water rafting, one of the women, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is involved in a tragic car accident. Her husband and son are killed and she is left seriously injured. A year later she gathers together with her friends once again for a weekend of spelunking in the Appalachian Mountains (bringing images of DELIVERANCE and the cabin in EVIL DEAD to mind). Some of her friends want this to be a weekend of healing, some of them are there just for the adventure, and Sarah isn't quite sure why she's along--she wants to be there, yet she's scared, too. Unbeknownst to the rest of the group, the leader of this expedition, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), has led the women into an unchartered cave. Passing through a tight tunnel, part of the cave collapses and the truth of what has been going on is revealed. Being trapped in a cave with no option of turning around is horrible enough. But the women aren't the only ones in the cave. Their descent has actually brought them into the lair of a group of semi-human predators who have a particular taste for human flesh. They are blind, but have the ears and reflexes of a bat. The challenge to find the exit then becomes a life or death race to escape from the descent they've lowered themselves into.

THE DESCENT uses a lot of typical horror movie techniques, but the film is not a typical horror film. Despite the flesh-eating monsters (who don't even appear on screen until over half-way through) chasing the women and the claustrophobic cave imagery that surrounds them, THE DESCENT is more of an exploration of the psychological and emotional challenges people go through when faced with a life-threatening situation. Taking a cue from Hitchcock, director Neil Marshall knows that the most horrifying things in life are the things we can't see. It is this subtle subtext that gives THE DESCENT an edge. For instance, it is never actually addressed in the film, but Juno might have been having an affair with Sarah's husband and knowing this brings a depth of psychological tension to the situation that makes it far more fascinating than the carnivorous creatures chasing everyone in the cave. Not only that, but Marshall has given us a group of women who aren't like the typical women in horror movies. The women in THE DESCENT aren't frightened little creatures who scream and run away when the going gets tough. Neither are they the idiotic single women of THE GRUDGE or THE RING who seem intelligent but do really dumb things. Instead, the women in this film are women like Ripley in the Alien series; kick-butt, fight back, but fight back smart type of women. They are real women and do things that real women would probably do in such a situation. Nevertheless, this is a horror movie and this film is full of blood and guts. The gore is lessened a bit by the low lighting and economy film making. Nevertheless, there's a lot of blood--think of Sissy Spacek in CARRIE multiplied several times--and therefore the film isn't for the squeamish.

I found THE DESCENT to be an enjoyable movie. The beginning moves rather slowly, but is necessary to build the characterization and hinted back-story that gives the film such an emotional and psychological depth later. When I originally saw this film, I was a bit disappointed by the ending. Lionsgate, the U.S. distributor, apparently thought the original ending (the movie was released in 2005 in Europe) was too bleak for American audiences and altered it. I felt that the ending I saw was a complete cop-out and thrown in the please people who have seen too many horror movies that end with the promise of a sequel. I'm glad to say that the DVD version has the original ending intact. There's only a couple more minutes of footage, but those couple minutes change the entire meaning of the film completely. It's a bit ambiguous, too, but it doesn't feel like the cop-out of the original U.S. ending.

The DVD includes two audio commentaries, a featurette entitled "THE DESCENT: Beneath the Scenes", deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, a short interview with director Neil Marshall explaining the differences in the two endings, some stills, cast and crew biographies, storyboard and scene comparisons, and some trailers for other Lionsgate features. The behind the scenes featurette is enjoyable to watch and the interview with Marshall about the different endings is very interesting. Some of the deleted scenes add some more background to the characters, but the rest were unnecessary to the film's plot and structure.

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More The Descent reviews
review by . October 31, 2008
The Descent
Actually, I gave this movie 3 1/2 stars, but for the benefit of the doubt used 4 instead of lowering it to just 3. WARNING: Jeff Long wrote a fantastic book called 'The Descent'. When I first heard of this movie I thought at last they had made the book into a movie. Wrong. The only things the book and the movie have in common are the name and something creepy underground.     Six women, Sarah, Juno, Beth, Rebecca, Sam and Holly, love get togethers that include extreme adventures, …
review by . May 16, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
When I first saw previews for "The Descent," I immediately wrote it off as a copycat wannabe thriller like "The Cave." In fact, that's what took me so long to view this film. I figured that it would be just another dull spelunking horror flick. Boy, was I wrong. "The Descent" is one of the top horror flicks to come out in the last few years. The plot is simple enough: six ladies, all with varied intentions, head off to the Appalachian mountains for a weekend of spelunking fun. Once they hit the …
review by . March 09, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: No one involved with this film can be considered a pro.      Cons: If making bad movies was a crime, everyone involved is a con.      The Bottom Line: Just . . . don't . . . bother.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.      Pardon me for the sexist joke I’m about to make. Six women go into a cave and there is no one else to ask for directions; how many …
review by . January 10, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Somewhat resembling a big budget `Blair Witch Project' for adults, `The Descent' finds six girlfriends from the U.K. spelunking in the caves of Appalachia after one of them, Sarah (Shaina McDonald), has a tragic family SUV accident. Wanting to console her a year after she loses her husband, Sarah is not always a happy camper. Everyone is all smiles in their mountain cabin, but soon we are confronted by the usual surprise tactics: people sneaking up on others, bats coming out of nowhere, etc. The …
review by . August 07, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
(Aug 6th 2006 - update below)  There are rules. Rules to the genre of horror. The Descent follows the rules, then surpasses them, then breaks them in its wake. This movie is phenomenal.    For years I slovenly sagged by head after viewing one dissappointing horror flick after another. Jeez what a sad journey, but now I am happy and oh so pleased to tell you my amazon friends, a new king (or queen shall I say) is born for horror.    The Descent transends …
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Claustrophobia and bloody mayhem collide in the high-adrenaline horror flickThe Descent. Six women (including one who lost her husband and child the year before, and one who harbors a bitter secret) spelunk in an unexplored cavern system that turns out to harbor mysterious, predatory creatures. That sums up the story, but--as with writer-director Neil Marshall's previous low-concept movie,Dog Soldiers--the plot doesn't begin to describe the riveting, stomach-lurching thrills this movie provides. The script affords the relatively unknown cast (led by Shauna Macdonald and Natalie Mendoza, both excellent) just enough room to make their characters distinct and genuine, so that when they're dropped into utmost peril our empathy is engaged as much as our fear. The dynamic direction and editing make the cavern a palpable, physical presence, even before the creepy beasts crawl out of their nooks. This is not a movie for everyone; it is extremely gruesome and will induce panic attacks in anyone with even a mild fear of closed spaces. But for anyone seeking something smarter, faster, and more wrenching than static torture-fests likeSaworHostel,The Descentwill draw you into its unsettling ooze.--Bret Fetzer
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Genre: Horror
Release Date: 4 August 2006
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 99 Minutes
Studio: Celedor Films
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