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13 reviews, 107 user ratings

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Descent, The
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by David Cornelius

"Another movie reason to avoid the Appalachians."
5 stars

We are warned early in “The Descent” that cave explorers often suffer from dehydration, disorientation, claustrophobia, panic attacks, paranoia, and hallucinations, and that’s just for starters. This is not a threat, but a promise.

Since its release in the UK last year, “The Descent,” written and directed by Neil Marshall (maker of the cult favorite “Dog Soldiers”), has become the most highly anticipated horror import since “28 Days Later.” And like that film, it turns out to be so very much worth the wait. This is the kind of horror movie horror fans mention when they try to explain why they love horror movies; it is brutal and effective, genuinely frightening throughout, and made by someone with a solid grasp of all film can do. Straight up, this is a brilliant movie.

The story has an elegance to its simplicity: following a personal tragedy, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) travels with some friends to the Appalachian Mountains in hopes of relaxing with a little spelunking adventure. One of the women (Natalie Mendoza) tricks them into exploring an unmapped cavern. A cave-in traps them, and they must look for a new way out. And then very bad things start happening.

It’s not the freshest of premises - heck, we just got “The Cave” last summer - but watch what Marshall does with it. Following an opening shocker that’s nothing less than a kick to the face, we spend the first several scenes in a bit of a daze; like Sarah, we’re trying to recover, but unlike Sarah, we know that this movie isn’t called “Happy Fun Time Spelunking Adventure Party,” and we’re unsteady as we’re on the look out for those very bad things to start happening.

But that’s us. Marshall lets his characters relax. It’s just a weekend getaway, nothing could possibly go wrong. And so all the tensions we get as the women enter the cave are minor: those of us afraid of heights squirm at the initial drop into the cavern; those of us with claustrophobia tense up when the ladies have to crawl through the smallest of openings. It’s only little by little that the terror builds, as worse and worse things happen. A panic attack here, a broken leg there. By the time we get to the meat of the story, our nerves are already knocked loose. There’s no chance of recovering now.

Consider the scene in which Rebecca (Saskia Mulder) climbs across a chasm, swinging across the cavern ceiling in an attempt to attach pitons so others may cross using ropes. This sequence alone is more nerve-wracking than other entire thrillers put together. Marshall cranks the tension as tightly as it can possibly go. Yet he also reminds us of the realism of such a scenario - Rebecca is in great physical pain throughout, screaming and grunting with every move she needs to make in order to keep from falling - and that adds an extra kick to it all. Marshall has taken the simplest of scenes and crafted something brilliant in its nail-biting-ness.

Marshall’s greatest achievement here as a director is in his use of light and darkness. “The Descent” is one of those films best watched in the darkest of theaters (or, come DVD time, the darkest of home theaters), as the very lack of visibility becomes a character all to itself. Watch how Marshall plays with us, what we can and can’t see. He allows the darkness to work on our fears, wondering what’s lurking in the shadows. The use of night vision on a camcorder becomes a powerful tool, then, as it reveals to us things otherwise unseen. Marshall’s timing with this device is exceptional - at the screening I attended, I jumped from my seat multiple times, while a woman behind me didn’t just yell, but full-on screamed, loud and long, the kind of scream that suggests a horror filmmaker has done something truly special in scaring the crap out of us all.

His greatest achievement on the writer side of things, however, has nothing to do with scares. It is, instead, his boldness in opting to allow plenty of down time in the film. One has to wonder how much of what occurs on screen is in the head(s) of the main character(s), and to fuel this notion, Marshall provides moments of us quietly watching the women fall apart inside. And when he’s not doing that, he’s letting us watch as the tension slowly builds between them all, paranoia becoming properly earned and backstabbing more than a metaphor. A lesser filmmaker would have plowed straight ahead with horror action, or at least edited things down afterwards to keep things chugging forward. But Marshall understands that great terror can be had from the quietest of moments, and so he lets his characters (and, by extension, the viewer) simmer in a mental haze. The loud, brutal, violent moments might shock us right out of our seats, but it’s in the more thoughtful, reflective scenes where the movie truly gets under our skin. (The cast, by the way, is plenty able to deliver where it counts. Thanks to them, we genuinely care what happens to these people - a welcome rarity in the horror field.)

And this is why “The Descent” is such a memorable horror experience. It affects us in every way a great horror flick should - it provides us with everything from immediate jump scares to long, lingering bits of mood that stick with you long after the credits roll. It shows us cringe-inducing violence, yet also finds delight in the subtlest of mental and emotional shocks. It grabs us as tightly as it possibly can, then uses every weapon at its disposal to keep its hold. It builds and builds and builds, piling terror upon terror until we can’t take it anymore - and then we get more terror still. It is everything a horror movie should be, and more. This is the most gripping, shocking, involving, and downright frightening movie to be made in quite some time.

A final note: There has been much discussion over Lionsgate’s decision to offer a re-edited version of the finale for American audiences, trimming a key scene from the ending of the UK original and stopping things on a louder level. Having seen both endings, I’m tempted to state that I just might prefer the new, American ending. The British finale manages to tie itself into a key character and clear some things up a little better, yes, but the American edit is tighter and more compact and therefore arguably more effective in its one-last-shock potential. Both endings, fortunately, are deliciously ambiguous, and both leave you wanting to take the ride all over again - but only after your nerves have calmed down.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12642&reviewer=392
originally posted: 08/03/06 22:25:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2006 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantasia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/24/18 Mitch The most claustrophobic I've ever been lying on my couch. 5 stars
9/12/17 morris campbell good scary monster movie 4 stars
6/26/15 Quigley One of the most intense horror films I've ever seen. 5 stars
1/07/14 Martin This movie does horror right, and in so many ways. See all endings, original one best. 4 stars
1/31/13 Charles Tatum Claustrophobics might add a star; good stuff 4 stars
1/13/12 matthew Thompson Dalldorf I will never enter a cave after seeing this 5 stars
5/15/11 stephen nettles AMAZING 5 stars
1/22/11 millersxing runs the gamut of gore with girl power 4 stars
7/15/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess At least as scary as a night in a shark's gut. At least. 5 stars
1/19/09 Camilo Espinoza Excelent 5 stars
11/25/08 Leo T fun, loads of good parts to startle... 5 stars
9/10/08 Borat Amazing horror movie 5 stars
4/15/08 Pete Chesworth Excellent film very creepy 4 stars
3/09/08 sumixam Really good, surprisingly so 5 stars
6/15/07 al smith nerve shreddingly tense amazing 5 stars
6/08/07 Danielle Ophelia Everything--the atmosphere, the exponential dread, the characterization--felt right. 5 stars
4/27/07 Total Crap It's "Kill Bill" meets "the Cave". This is a really cool movie. 4 stars
3/27/07 Mike Shady Awesome movie. totaly recommend it. 5 stars
3/27/07 bobb really cool 5 stars
2/28/07 THE REAL DEAL Predictable and a peice of crap. Go caving some time retard. FU Cornelius 5 stars
2/27/07 CARLENE HAYTON I expected more but I liked it! 4 stars
2/24/07 Dave One of the best horror films in five years or so. 4 stars
2/22/07 Weblynx Ok, scared me and entertaining 4 stars
2/09/07 Heather Watched with hands over eyes. Sign of a pretty scary movie! 2 stars
2/05/07 Indrid Cold Not so scary, but the psychological aspects make it an extremely satisfying thriller. 5 stars
2/04/07 Shobert O-V-E-R-R-A-T-E-D 2 stars
2/02/07 tony i like the way that nora jane act she's hot 4 stars
1/27/07 David Pollastrini The first scary movie to scare me in a long time! 5 stars
1/25/07 kris Better than average, some psychology. Hot lead girl. The US version ending is worse. 4 stars
1/13/07 Roxanne Meadows Yep, character are unlikeable and surface and underground geologies don't match! 2 stars
1/10/07 Tracey Chambers great movie. shows that anyone can become a killer given the right circumstances 4 stars
12/27/06 action movie fan a truly scary gorefest-above average horror film-has ture scares 4 stars
12/26/06 Spencer this movie rocked the first time I saw it and now it still makes me jump! 5 stars
12/04/06 Shawna Ride So-so gore happening to unlikeable characters; mostly a waste. 2 stars
11/28/06 Garkain sleep through the first have, then you have a great movie 4 stars
11/25/06 I-K Took long enough for this to hit Aussie cinemas... the wait was worth it 5 stars
11/21/06 jdean62 Hmmmm hard to say... for this genre it was good...but should have waited for the DVD 4 stars
11/19/06 Noel A great film, one of the most entertaining in a very long time!! 5 stars
11/17/06 Deon Smelt i think the decent is a great film i just carnt stop watching it after the first time 5 stars
10/24/06 Drew G OK, could have been much better 3 stars
10/22/06 Steve Newman I loved Dog Soldiers - thix ie even better 5 stars
10/19/06 nhlanhla it i a brilliant movie but i dont really understand da ending did she make it or is she sti 4 stars
10/09/06 Donna Gelpigi Has some surprise plot twist, but it gets drowned out in the sloppy gore overload! 2 stars
9/27/06 Yoali It was perfect last week. i was alone at home... i didn't sleep! 4 stars
9/26/06 matt it was ok, some nice gore but could have been scarier. 3 stars
9/11/06 Rob Excellent movie instant classic 5 stars
9/04/06 bobby b it will keep you at the edge of your seat 4 stars
8/31/06 Mary Beth succeeded in being extremely unpleasant 1 stars
8/26/06 cindy excellent !! 5 stars
8/26/06 M. Mirliss Utter brilliance in a genre that desperately needed it. 5 stars
8/25/06 --- Note to aspiring horror directors: This is EXACTLY what a horror film should be 5 stars
8/24/06 Teresa Saltos The monsters within the women were as scary as the monsters in the movie. Excellent film, 5 stars
8/23/06 Dave One of the best horror films in a long time. 4 stars
8/21/06 G Sherfy Scary? I think not. Use the first half and chuck the last "Gollums in a cave" half. 3 stars
8/19/06 Kaline totally sitting on the edge of your chair covering your eyes 5 stars
8/17/06 Pn. Everything was fine until the cawlers showed up... 3 stars
8/16/06 Loball Wow, total crap, horrible movie, corny plot, corny movie overall...only good if you suck 1 stars
8/15/06 DAVE einfach nur geil 5 stars
8/14/06 CJ Two-dimensional, dumb characters and a story full of holes. Overrated. 2 stars
8/12/06 Harold One of the most overrated movies of all-time! 1 stars
8/12/06 Jessica W. One of the best horror films I've seen 5 stars
8/09/06 Mase Not only the best horror movie of the last 10 years but one of the best of they year! 5 stars
8/09/06 Elisa Giro Aha! Is this film an allegory to the true meaning of ketchup? 3 stars
8/08/06 Doreen Hayes Loved it!! Great scary movie 4 stars
8/08/06 Mansi Dido Good fun. 3 stars
8/08/06 jcjs fun, blood, gore, cheap to make, entertaining, rocks, slime, yummy blood, scary, actioncraz 5 stars
8/07/06 tox GREAT! The whole theater was SCREAMING. And it was mostly adults! Very high tension movie. 5 stars
8/07/06 Frenzy very scary 5 stars
8/06/06 Agent Sands Decent horror flick save for wishy-washy cinematography and corny exposition. 4 stars
8/06/06 mek what the hell happened at the end 4 stars
8/05/06 Mike I'm in pure shock over how overhyped this was. This was just low budget crap. VERY let down 2 stars
8/05/06 Evil Wolfie Made me laugh... but that might just be my sick sense of humor... 4 stars
8/05/06 Ole Man Bourbon 1/3 scary, 1/3 boring, 1/3 crap. It's not that great. It's "decent." 3 stars
8/04/06 TiGrBaLm good gory action but didn't scare me at all 3 stars
8/01/06 lee Great ending (UK version) 5 stars
7/28/06 Nightjorn If this is as good as it gets...well...that's pretty sad for horror. 2 stars
7/14/06 Louise Great horror trip! Full of blood, guts and bone! Not for claustrophobics! 5 stars
7/07/06 Jambi The glowing reviews are absolutely head-scratching. Nothing special here. 3 stars
7/07/06 ES An ending that disappoints, standard effort from a marginal director 3 stars
7/06/06 stevo simply outstanding 5 stars
7/04/06 Dan Floreigh Loved it! Simply LOVED IT! Taught me to stay out of holes! 5 stars
5/21/06 Paul Lanner Super Scary! 5 stars
5/19/06 Frenzy Great horror 5 stars
5/06/06 Ramin Najjar What happens at the end? 2 stars
3/24/06 Alice I was also a bit disappointed, it was not THAT good.. 5 stars
3/20/06 Lazlo MASSIVELY overrated, not scary, DON'T believe the hype...huge disappointment!!!!! 2 stars
2/17/06 Ole Man Bourbon I screamed once, but was bored most of the time. 3 stars
2/09/06 David Anyone else find that "Juno leg-stretching" scene in the hut sexy? 4 stars
1/28/06 Laura Excellent in every way, to be particularly enjoyed by gore freaks like me. 5 stars
1/28/06 xtc the hype is no lie. See it in theaters with the sound cranked. 5 stars
1/26/06 Carlos I saw it 4 times. 4 times I was scary as hell. amazing 5 stars
11/23/05 Kevin O'Toole What a fantastic film! Creates an atmosphere which lasts long after the film is over! 5 stars
11/12/05 Vince One of the few horror movies which is ACTUALLY scary. 5 stars
10/30/05 Bob Had me peeing my pants 5 stars
10/25/05 chris fox (the god) a good film 5 stars
10/11/05 Heather Reid fantastic scary film 4 stars
8/28/05 Kenneth Clark Good for Saturday afternoon if you're not doing anyghing else 3 stars
8/14/05 .:*paris*:. OMG its like sooo scary deff a buyer,watch it with your m8s!! 5 stars
8/12/05 Jut Wow! another fantastic british film 5 stars
8/12/05 ES The cave is likely a rip-off of this, movie entertains but confuses 3 stars
8/11/05 A Carr Great! I watched most of this threw gaps between my fingers 5 stars
8/11/05 Mark Andrews Simple premise, wonderfully executed 5 stars
7/28/05 Nicole extraordinarily scary movie - strong women 5 stars
7/28/05 Laurabetty This film made me scream out loud in the cinema!! utterly terrifying!! 5 stars
7/27/05 Luke Akrigg Easily the best horror of atleast the last 15 years. 5 stars
7/27/05 Lee Kernan Best horror film Ive seen in years, a truly great genre film... 5 stars
7/25/05 Mark Barraclough Remember the time you saw the scariest film **EVER**? You will when you see this. Awesome! 5 stars
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  04-Aug-2006 (R)
  DVD: 26-Dec-2006



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