The Descent

  • 2005
  • Movie
  • R
  • Horror

Six weekend warriors on a caving excursion find themselves fighting for their lives in Neil Marshall's harrowing follow-up to the lean, larky werewolf picture DOG SOLDIERS (2002). Thrill-seekers Sarah (Shauna MacDonald), Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid), old friends who regularly test themselves against the great outdoors, have just finished...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Six weekend warriors on a caving excursion find themselves fighting for their lives in Neil Marshall's harrowing follow-up to the lean, larky werewolf picture DOG SOLDIERS (2002). Thrill-seekers Sarah (Shauna MacDonald), Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid), old friends who regularly test themselves against the great outdoors, have just finished an exhilarating white-water-rafting trip. But the outing ends in unexpected tragedy: Sarah's husband (Oliver Milburn) and their small daughter (Molly Kayll), are killed in a freak auto accident while driving back to their hotel; only Sarah survives. A year later, the nightmare-haunted Sarah joins Juno and Beth in America for a spelunking trip, along with two other old pals, half sisters Rebecca (Saskia Mulder) and Sam (MyAnna Buring), and a new friend of Juno's, BASE-jumper Holly (Nora-Jane Noone). In deference to Sarah's shaky emergence from devastating depression, their agenda is less intense than usual: Just an afternoon of exploring a well-mapped Appalachian cavern. But a tunnel collapse changes everything, forcing Juno to confess that she lied to them in the interests of upping the adrenaline factor. They're trapped in a wild cave they shouldn't be in at all; there's no map, and Juno didn't register their expedition. No one is going to come looking for them; they have only a few hours of battery power for their lights and, as though all that weren't bad enough, they soon realize they're not alone in the dark. A masterful blend of DELIVERANCE (1972) and OPEN WATER (2004), overlaid with genre influences that range from THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1978/2006) and ALIEN (1979) to DEATHLINE (1972), Marshall's offering avoids the pitfalls that trip up so many horror films. He devotes a good 40 minutes to thoroughly establishing his characters and their relationships, including the underlying tensions that erupt under pressure. The women are tough, capable and unusually qualified to cope with the situation — when they start screaming, they've got something to scream about. And while Marshall is sparing with his glimpses of the monstrous cave dwellers, he doesn't flinch at brutal violence. Where DOG SOLDIERS was designed as a thrill ride, a series of audacious shocks leavened with dark humor, THE DESCENT is an endurance test: The clan of screeching, skittering mutated cannibals who thrive in the cave's inky depths are utterly nightmarish and disturbingly convincing. Though the film's downbeat ending was softened for U.S. release, it's still a long way from happy.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Six weekend warriors on a caving excursion find themselves fighting for their lives in Neil Marshall's harrowing follow-up to the lean, larky werewolf picture DOG SOLDIERS (2002). Thrill-seekers Sarah (Shauna MacDonald), Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza) and… (more)

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