The girls: Sarah, Juno, Beth, Rebecca, Sam, Holly, Jess.
The cave: dark, mysterious, unknown, suspicious, cramped, sultry, daunting.
Girls, meet the cave.
This is the premise of The Descent. They are a group of noisy, raucous young women looking for the next thrill in excitingly dangerous outdoor activities. The film takes place one year after the death of the death of Sarah’s (Shauna Macdonald) husband in a traffic collision. With the only male character killed off, the all female group of friends decide to go exploring in the American caves. However the adventurous Juno (Natalie Mendoza) decides instead to leave behind the map, which in fact is useless as she has taken them to an unchartered cave. Once in, Marshall employs the first direct attack towards the characters when the rocks cave in, cutting off their exit to above land. But something dwells inside the caves, something evil…
Marshall’s last film, Dog Soldiers, featured a predominantly male cast and it’s an uncommon (but commendable) sight to see a director cast all women into a horror fi
lm. However the key downfall of the film is within the characters. There is no Ripley, or Sarah Connor here – rather a series of familiar, typical and overused personalities. When you cram them into a small dark place as Marshall has done, they naturally fight and separate. For such a fantastic concept, the story seems to fizzle when it comes to character interaction. I found myself genuinely annoyed and careless over the character’s wellbeing, the most effective moments being when they are physically trapped by their surroundings.
The set design is spectacularly simple – smooth, deadly, totally believable cave environments full of crevasses and obstacles for the character to adapt to. However what truly shines, not only in production but in creation, is the creatures. Marshall has added a remarkably distinct human resemblance to the creepy, slimy, calculating monsters. They are genuinely chilling and you’ll find yourself clinging to the chair in fear at the sound of their screech. You should be unsettled when the lights go down and the film begins; light is a privilege, a rarity in The Descent, but is used to startling effect. I find the very scariest horror films to be the ones that scare you not because of what happens, but because of what you perceive to happen and Marshall displays this with seemingly veteran skill. I must admit though when he resorts to using the slasher style blood and guts technique the film begins to waver in terror.
Nevertheless, The Descent is most definitely for horror fans whose favourite films include The Thing, Deliverance, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw etc. although I feel a more selected audience within this will find this well crafted shocker particularly, but playfully, petrifying.