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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 16.67%
Just Average: 13.44%
Pretty Crappy: 5.38%
Sucks: 1.61%

13 reviews, 108 user ratings

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Descent, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Spunky Spelunkers Get Chunked"
3 stars

Having played virtually everywhere else in the world, the British horror film “The Descent” has finally arrived in America atop a wave of fanboy hype–thanks to its release abroad as well as festival appearances–claiming it as a modern masterpiece and one of the most terrifying films ever made. Thanks to such advances as the Internet, this kind of pre-release hype has become more and more common in recent years in the world of independent genre filmmaking and sometimes the chatter winds up being fully justified–“Ginger Snaps,” “The Blair Witch Project” and “May” immediately leap to mind–but too often, it turns out to be just a lot of hot air surrounding utterly ordinary crud like “Cabin Fever” or too many J-horror films to mention. While “The Descent” is nowhere near as bad as the latter examples, it too fails to live up to its advance billing and becomes just another exercise in silly gore and sillier plotting that will probably disappoint those expecting it to be the Next Big Horror Thing. Actually, it may be even more disappointing because there are just enough things that do work on display here to allow you to imagine what might have been and rue what it has instead become.

After a prologue setting up the personal trauma of the main character–a throughly ugly and unnecessary bit that apes the opening of “Dead Calm” and could have easily been cut without much of a loss–“The Descent” sets us down in the Appalachians to introduce us to our victims-to-be, a group of women (mostly British) on their yearly extreme-sports excursion. This year, American daredevil Juno (Natalie Mendoza) has arranged for the exploration of an underground cave system for her and her pals–Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), whose trip the year before ended with that catastrophic prologue, Beth (Alex Reid), Sarah’s best pal, schoolteacher Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), med student Sam (MyAnna Buring) and hotshot newcomer Holly (Nora-Jane Noone, whom you may recall as the feistiest of the victims in “The Magdalene Sisters”). All is fun and games for a while until a cave-in seals off their entrance and it turns out that instead of being the well-charted and patrolled cave system that Juno suggested, it is in fact a system that remains unexplored and uncharted. Actually, they do discover evidence that others explorers were in there before–some century-old pieces of climbing equipment–but the fact that the cave remains unknown would seem to indicate that whomever left it behind didn’t quite make it out themselves.

This stretch of the movie is easily the best section because of the way that writer-director Neil Marshall (whose previous work was the cult favorite “Dog Soldiers”) slowly and efficiently ratchets up the suspense by effectively playing on some of the most basic of human fears. Deep down, no matter how brave of a face we may put on, all of us have a deep-seated terror of such things as being buried alive, being hopelessly lost in a location that no one would ever think to look and suffering a leg break of Joe Theisman-like proportions. Marshall milks those elements with such cruel elegance that even the most jaded horror buffs, especially confirmed urbanites like myself who consider even a simple “nature walk” to be nothing more than high-octane nightmare fuel, are likely to respond to it–so much so that they may even find themselves willing to overlook such otherwise unavoidable facts as Marshall’s fondness for cheap “BOO” moments, dream sequences, flat dialogue (“It’s the dark–it plays tricks on you”) and sketchily-developed characters because of the tense and claustrophobic atmosphere that he has managed to create.

At this point, however, our heroines discover that they are not alone in the cave and both the women and the film wind up quickly going straight to hell as it devolves into yet another story of people being picked off in the dark and torn apart like fresh bread by an array of loathsome, flesh-eating creatures. The gold standard for this particular subgenre is still Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece “Alien” and it is clear that Marshall studied that film long and hard in preparation for “The Descent”–both films feature strong female leads, a long tension-building first half that quietly builds to a jaw-dropping moment of pure visceral terror and a second half that consists of one jolt after another. The difference between the two is that Scott remembered to quietly build up the characters in the first half (so that their eventual demises in the second would have some meaning) and throw enough surprises into the mix after the monster popped out of John Hurt so that viewers would never what to expect next. Thanks to those innovations, “Alien” remains the rare horror film that has managed to retain its ability to scare its audience, no matter how many times they may have seen it over the years.

By comparison, Marshall, after shooting his wad with his big scare moment (which the brainiacs at Lionsgate have inexplicably chosen to blow for potential audiences by including it in the trailers) has nothing else up his sleeve to offer except gallons of blood, slime and innards becoming outtards. The characters are nothing to write home about–other than Macdonald (who gets the only fleshed-out role in the piece), they are either one-note (Mendoza and Noone) or no-note (everyone else)–and there is subsequently no discernible impact when they get killed off. The few vague innovations that Marshall throws in, such as having the creatures be blind after spending countless decades underground in the dark, are promising at first but wind up getting run into the ground–too many scenes of the women silently crouching in fright as the beasts slink past–while inspiring the kind of questions of logic that need to be avoided if at all possible if a movie of this type is to have any chance of succeeding. (If the other senses of the monsters have been exponentially heightened to make up for the loss of their vision, wouldn’t they notice the heat of the flaming torches the women begin using.) At other times, Marshall just gets lazy–having established the utter hopelessness of the women finding a path out other than by using their somewhat doubtful spelunking skills, he then all but drops a map into their laps–and he wraps things up with the kind of craptacular finale (one altered from the U.K. original) that seems to have been taken directly from one of the lesser “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequels.

Would I have enjoyed “The Descent” more if I had been able to experience it with completely fresh eyes instead of watching it knowing full well of both the hype and its single greatest moment? Possibly–I recall having debates with people who couldn’t believe that I liked “The Blair Witch Project” and without fail, the ones who hated it were those who encountered it after the publicity kicked in and found that it didn’t live up to the buzz. Then again, maybe not–though not without its qualities and definitely a cut above the recent spate of useless remakes, it has more than enough flaws of its own that I might have been a little wary of it even without any of the promotional jibber-jabber. Like most of its characters, “The Descent” demonstrates some pretty fancy footwork for a while, only to suddenly and plunge into a vat of gore and gristle from which escape proves to be tragically impossible.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12642&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/04/06 00:08:54
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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

10/21/20 Louise (the real one) Absolutely terrifying & involving. This is how a good horror film should be. 5 stars
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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