Sunday, December 13, 2015


I watched THE DESCENT (2005), the other day for the first time. This British horror film has many similarities to John Boorman's brilliant classic DELIVERANCE (1972). Here, instead of four men, it's six women. Instead of white-water rafting down a raging river, it's spelunking in an unexplored cave. A broken leg with protruding bone? Check for both. But instead of corn-holin' hillbillies, the women here must face off against a horde of Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, or, if you prefer C.H.U.D. (hands up if you remember that 1984 shlock fest).

The six women exist only to be slaughtered so don't look for any thing remotely resembling character development. The ostensible main character is Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), who survives a horrific automobile accident early in the film, an accident that leaves her husband and daughter both dead and Sarah severely unhinged. Flash forward to a year later and Sarah and her buds embark on a spelunking trip somewhere in the Appalachians. The trouble is, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), the most experienced spelunker of the group, doesn't tell the others that the cave has never been explored. She wants to claim the victory of exploring it and naming it for herself.

As if the sheer, claustrophobic terror of being in a very dark, very small space deep underground (sequences which are effectively staged, by the way), wasn't enough, it's not long before the women encounter the blind, fish-belly white, hairless cannibal creatures and all hell breaks loose. We're talking a beheading, a throat impalement with a climbing hammer, one woman eaten alive in a tunnel, etc, etc. The brutality, violence and gore is unrelenting during the last third of the film and you begin to wonder if any of these women will survive. Finally, Sarah escapes back to the surface and away from the cave. Or does she?

Exteriors for the film were shot in the U.K. while all of the cave scenes were shot on sets built at Pinewood Studios in Great Britain. The sets are extremely convincing, as are the cannibals. But it's extremely difficult to tell what's going on in some of the fight scenes due to both limited lighting and helter skelter editing. Neil Marshall does double duty as writer and director. His direction is good but his screenplay is strictly by-the-numbers. Marshall's next film after THE DESCENT was DOOMSDAY (2008), a schizoid mash-up of a film that starts out as an ALIENS rip-off which suddenly and inexplicably morphs into a ROAD WARRIOR pastiche midway through the film. It sounds crazy but it works.

THE DESCENT is technically well made but I can only recommend this one to die-hard horror film fans. The cardboard characters, cookie-cutter plot and over-the-top gore really put me off.

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