Descent

Movie Review by Dan Spiers

Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder
Director: Neil Marshall

THE DESCENT, directed by Neil Marshall, is a high-kicking, pom-pom shaker of a horror film about six female friends on a caving expedition. They suffer disembowelment and are driven to disembodiment by a community of cavemen gone wrong in what is a taut, suspenseful and wonderfully crafted movie.

It is clear from the opening sequences that nature is of great significance to the film. Marshall depicts the natural world as a vast, brooding menace that leaves deer mysteriously torn apart and visibly consumes the women as they enter the mouth of the cave.

Indeed, once the cave is entered, it becomes a living, breathing entity. As the group travels further into the underground network, light decreasing, tunnels narrowing, it’s as if they are passing through some terrible rock-based intestine. The glory being that before anything untoward has actually happened, Marshall has instilled the audience with a tangible sense of unease.

The fact is the women are being served as food. They stumble upon a breed of human perfectly adapted to the caves. They are blind, but have an acute sense of hearing, can climb walls and possess, it has to be said, a voracious appetite.

It is difficult to see why nobody has taken advantage of the inherent darkness of this terrain before but Marshall uses it to full effect to oppress and disorientate the viewer. As the climbers suspend themselves from cave ceilings, hang from cave walls and fall down hidden crevices the camera shoots from above, beneath and around vulnerable bodies.

What’s more a tremendous amount of primal, strangely sexual violence takes place in the dark. With the bodies of the beasties completely naked, the only light is that shed by flares, which comes in a shade of whore house red. As a result, when bodies writhe and limbs lock, it all seems rather saucy. That, however, is until rock hammer gets imbedded in bone, mouths stuck into intestine or thumbs get stuck into eyeballs. And then there is a great deal of spurting, gushing and sloshing of blood.

But it would be misleading to suggest this is merely a well-executed gorefest, for there are grievances and instabilities within the group that lead the two central protagonists, Juno (Nathalie Mendoza) and Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) to stumble through the caves in fear of the beasties, each other and indeed themselves. This is well executed psychological as well as physical torture.

If TOUCHING THE VOID had featured ravenous Yetis bounding after the mountaineers then THE DESCENT could have been an extreme sport sequel. As it is it stands rather magnificently alone. If you are in search of your youth and long to recapture your fear of the dark, then get lost in this film. If ‘lights out’ still holds no fear then, alas, your inner child is lost forever.

5 out of 6 stars

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