Review: The Descent

The Descent (2006)
99 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Neil Marshall
Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid

Grade: B+

Are you afraid of the dark? If you aren’t, you should be after watching what the six women in The Descent go through during a caving excursion. Without a doubt this is the best and the scariest horror film of 2006. Writer/director Neil Marshall cranks up the suspense, dims the light and lets us go on one hell of a ride in the caves.

Before diving into the thick of the plot, there’s a brilliantly orchestrated opening sequence that might seem like a throw-away setup to more exciting things to come, but ends up being the driving force for our main character, Sarah. Best friends Sarah (Macdonald), Juno (Mendoza) and Beth (Reid) are tackling the white-water rapids during a trip that includes Sarah’s husband and young daughter. We see Sarah’s husband and Juno mingling a little too close and further hints throughout the film suggest they were intimately involved. Sarah and her family go in a car while Juno and Beth travel in another. Tragedy strikes when an accident kills Sarah’s family.

One year later, the best friends including three more women gather at the North Carolina Appalachians to try and restore any kind of normalcy for Sarah, but the thrill-seeking Juno risks everyone’s lives after some ill-advised decisions. They don’t arrive at the caves that attract tourists, they arrive at a cave that no one has discovered yet (though they soon realize it’s because no one has made it out).

This is where Neil Marshall cranks up some scares even before we’re face-to-face with the cave creatures. The feeling of claustrophobia is heightened when the women have to slip their way through extremely tight spaces and it only gets worse when one of them gets stuck and has to deal with a cave-in. That being said, the group is stuck in the caves about two miles underground with no one aware they’re there. It’s up to themselves to find a way out, which becomes increasingly more difficult when they discover the violent creatures that inhabit the caves.

There are plenty of cheap scares in The Descent, but even those are treated with a great deal of planning and are executed so well that the pay-off is very thrilling. Marshall uses some interesting ways to illuminate the pitch-black caves for the film, which involves flares, and infrared camera, green glow-sticks and torches. Let me just advise you, the limited light-source certainly creates a tense environment for the women and when their flashlights shine on a killing field of hundreds of animal and human bones, it’s incredibly creepy.

The Descent takes the kind of scares that everyone is used to in the 2000s but transcends it with an intelligent story that expects the audience to connect the dots. Unlike the American version of the film, the uncut version is as dreary as they come, but I highly suggest you seek out the uncut version rather than the edited one.

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