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Friday, October 11, 2019

Review: The Descent

Director: Neil Marshall
Screenplay: Neil Marshall
Year: 2005

If I were to prepare a list of the worst places for a person to get lost into, a cave will be on the first positions. The darkness, the dense air, and the sense of claustrophobia are enough to get a person to lose control, and if we add creatures adapted to this condition ready to rip you apart, this can turn any attempt for an adventure into your worst nightmare. Well, this is precisely the plot of “The Descent”.

Sarah, who about a year ago lost her husband and wife in a horrible car crash, reunites with her friends to go adventuring in a cave system. The six of them end up trapped in the cave without much possibilities of escaping as Juno, one of the friends, without telling them brought them into an unexplored system, instead of into a touristic place as she has promised. Inside the cave, some savage creatures live who are ready to hunt down these prey that willingly got into their lair.

An important part of the plot development is the exploration of the characters. The cast is almost exclusively feminine and all are strong empowered women. The most developed characters are those of Sarah and Juno, and among them there is a certain discomfort because of the possible unfaithfulness of Sarah’s late husband with Juno. From the start, we see Sarah depressed and vulnerable after her loss, but as the events inside the cave transpire, she gets transformed until having a symbolic rebirth in a pond of blood as a fearless person. Juno’s case is different, and we see that she is not someone inherently evil, but has taken some bad choices that have screwed up other people and in the worst place possible she receives the consequences of those decisions. 

What helps “The Descent” to be a great movie is that its script doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel and is simple and effective. The first act is dedicated to give some exposition to Sarah and Juno’s Background, the only characters that have some development, and to give exposition to the interactions among all six friends. This first act is a little slow and feels more like a drama movie. Then we go straight for the cave and the tone changes completely 

Before getting inside the cave there are signs that something is not right and the viewer is left on alert because of what can happen. Once inside the cave, the worst thing that could happen happens: a movement in the rocks causes the path they took to enter the cave to get completely shut. This event is enough to raise the tension, but the worse is still left to be seen.

Narrow paths and cliffs are just some of the obstacles the young women must endure before finding the worst of them, which comes in the form of ferocious creatures that inhabit this cave. These creatures are hunters by nature, which are blind and only guided by their hearing, important elements for preparing some jump scares. The design of these creatures is effective in making them look horrific and the lighting effects enhance their nightmare creating potential. 

The technical aspect of this movie is impressive, to say the least. The use of scarce and creative lighting captures the sense of claustrophobia that must be felt in a place like this and transmits it to the viewer, a fundamental basis for keeping the tension high. This scarce lighting also helps the cave to feel endless and with little possibilities of escaping, at the same time keeping alive the possibility of something appearing at any given moment. As expected, the lighting is also used to prepare some jump scares and needless to say, they are effective.

“The Descent” is considered a contemporary horror movie classic and with good reason. Its simplicity doesn’t limit it for creating an experience that is as fun as it is horrific in a production that is well-balanced in all its aspects. For this review, I saw the UK version, which has a different ending from the US version, this second one leaving the door open for an eventual (and unnecessary) sequel. Personally, I recommend the UK version as it is a better ending, using well the emotions and tragedies of the plot and putting an end to a product that didn’t need to be expanded.

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