Rethinking The Descent

I first saw The Descent right after it came out on DVD.  It was still in those stages in which everyone was all, “Oh my gods!  The Descent shits rainbows!  It’s like watching a unicorn make love to a fairy–magical and terrifying!”  And I was all, “Pbbfff.  Fuck that.  It can’t be all those kinds of awesome.”  I was sure this movie could not live up to those reviews.  So I rented it with Best Friend.  And we watched in my bedroom in Illinois.

And we both thought it sucked.

Now, it’s been a number of years since these fateful days, and I decided (last night) to see if I’d been too hard on it.  And now I have an apology.

Dear The Descent,

I misjudged you.  You are every bit as awesome as everyone said you were.  I’m sorry I gave in to all the hype and let my brain make you suck, when in fact, you are super un-sucky.

You rock my socks.

I’m sorry, Missy Y.

The Descent is the story of a group of friends who go spelunking (one of the most unfortunate words ever) in a cave system in North Carolina.  When they get down there, a cave-in of sorts occurs, and the group is trapped with no way out.  They have to wander through the tunnels of the cave trying to escape–fighting dehydration, exhaustion, and paranoia.

This would be terrifying enough, but before too long, one of the cavers starts to see and hear strange things. Shortly after one of the group gets a really nasty leg injury, Sarah tells the rest that she saw a man in the cave.  Seeing as Sarah has a recent history of trauma, they all chalk it up to her cave paranoia and go about their merry way.

It’s about four minutes until this man Sarah claims to have seen shows himself.  And all Hell really breaks loose.  What are these creatures stalking the cavers?  Will they survive in the caves with them?  Will they be able to find a way out of this seemingly endless cavern?

The Descent is part monster movie, part environmental terror, and part survival horror.  And it succeeds at being every one of those things.

Let me take it step by step.  Characters being step one.  It has been about 10,000 years since I have seen a horror movie wherein I actually believed that the characters about to be picked off were actually friends.  Their relationship to each other, though not given too much iteration, is believable and lovable.  They all have their role to play, and they do it beautifully.  Special props go to Natalie Mendoza for her portrayal of the extremely tough and hard to love Juno and Shauna McDonald for losing her shit in that Sally Hardesty way.  But as much as I loved these two ladies, no one beats out Alex Reid.  If I were to take any of these girls home with me to be my friend, it would be the lovely Beth, who is by turns tough, loving, funny (see: “I’m an English teacher — not fucking Tomb Raider), and protective.

In addition to having a cast that knows how to carry the weight of such a film, The Descent also boasts one of the best settings I’ve ever seen.  The cave system the women are in is among the most claustrophobic settings I’ve ever seen.  The long scenes in which each of the women are crawling through tunnels found me squeezing a pillow and holding my breath.  Survival in a place like this would be impossible for me.

But neither of these two components would work if the film weren’t successful as a story.  And the thing that makes it so in this film is the pacing.  The tension in this flick builds ever so slowly until it reaches its pinnacle–the one moment in which we have legitimate slo-mo.  And I am even willing to forgive it that blunder.  The creatures in this film are not even seen until we hit the hour mark on the timer, and director Neil Marshall has crafted a perfect little scenario up until this point.  When they come, they come fast and hard, but our girls are no weaklings, and they take out their share of meanies.

My only real complaint with the whole thing is that the monsters don’t really seem all that necessary.  They’re fine and all, but I think I could have had another half hour with people just struggling to get out of the cave system.

Having said that, our monsters do provide us with some nice gore, and that’s something I always welcome.  Blood flows liberally in this flick, folks.  Stay away if you’re squeamish.  (Though, I have to say, a pond of blood–even in this cave–is not really all that believable.)

In short, I feel all lame because I’m so late to the party, but The Descent, I love you.


~ by acaseofyou12581 on July 2, 2010.

3 Responses to “Rethinking The Descent”

  1. […] . . . unnecessary.  The first film is a tight little booger, and I do so love it (see my earlier review).  It’s tense as all hell, and I can get down with that.  It’s filled with characters […]

  2. […] official mark in my life and consciousness.  Hey, I recently discovered I’d been wrong about The Descent all along.  And what a shame that was.  I could have been loving it all these […]

  3. […] […]

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