Film Reviews:

The Descent

(Neil Marshall, UK, 2005)

[The Descent]The Descent is the latest from Neil Marshall, the writer/director of Dog Soldiers. It's good fun, but still a disappointing step down from his debut.

Main character Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) is traumatised by the car crash death of her husband and young daughter. She has nightmares, particularly about her daughter. Later, with a group of female friends, she goes on a potholing expedition, one of her 'outdoorsy' hobbies. Her friend Juno (Natalie Mendoza) is group leader. Sarah's angry with Juno, because she left the scene of the accident. We're supposed to root for Sarah, but Juno is the more interesting character, and is also better played. The group travel to the Appalachian Mountains. This familiar American location is a mistake from a new British horror director, about as subtle as flashing up a billboard with 'I want to work in Hollywood' written on it.

The first thirty minutes are slow, with only gory crash flashbacks to keep things going. These flashbacks seem out of place with the quiet tone, but it's soon obvious that these graphic jolts are actually the real tone, and all the quiet stuff at the start is just getting the characters into position. Once the women get into the caves, things get moving, as they are first cut off by a rockfall, then discover that Juno has led them into an unexplored system of caves. Worse yet, they're not alone: a group of cannibalistic semi-humanoid beasties live in the caves.

[The Descent]From then on The Descent is a big rollercoaster ride. Horror films are often compared to fairground rides, but The Descent really does want to be one. Every old trick in the book is wheeled out, and most of them involve rubbery Nosferatu creatures popping out suddenly from the shadows. It all works well, and is guaranteed to get people leaping out of their seats. It's fun stuff, only interested in making its audience scream and laugh. It's not going for any kind of real fear, much less terror.

Nothing wrong with fun scares of course, but The Descent also seems dated: it's all quite Eighties. More than anything, it looks like a fanboy movie: made by people who yearn for the old video nasties, and have decided to make their own one. The biggest role model is probably Sam Raimi, whose Evil Dead films had a similar rock 'em, shock 'em attitude (and of course eventually landed him that big Hollywood career, eh Neil?). But Raimi's films felt new, they were much more than the sum of their influences. The Descent never gets anywhere near that point: it remains a patchwork of Alien, Evil Dead, and Deliverance. It adds nothing. It's quite a laugh to watch, but it's totally forgettable. 7/10

Adrian Horrocks (March 2006)

See also:

Dog Soldiers
Evil Dead
Evil Dead 2

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