The Descent (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner06/07/2005

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 100 mins

Neil Marshall’s follow-up to Dog Soldiers is a smartly written, atmospheric horror film with an attractive cast and a gleefully inventive streak of gore running through it.

The Descent is British writer-director Neil Marshall’s eagerly-awaited follow-up to his 2002 debut Dog Soldiers. Marshall is clearly a man who knows which side his bread is buttered on, because he’s wisely opted to stay firmly within the horror genre with his latest film. The result is extremely enjoyable and could easily be one of the scariest movies of the year.

The Plot

The film stars Shauna MacDonald as Sarah, who loses both her husband and daughter in a particularly nasty pole-related car crash early on in the film. We then skip forward a year, with Sarah joining a group of friends for an all-female caving expedition in the Appalachian mountains. The group includes: Juno (Natalie Mendoza), their gung ho leader, who has a few secrets of her own; daredevil base-jumper Holly (Nora Jane Noone); Scandinavian half-sisters Rebecca and Sam (Saskia Mulder and MyAnna Buring); and English teacher Beth (Alex Reid), who has come along to look after Sarah.

It quickly becomes clear that Sarah isn’t fully recovered from her mental breakdown and that she’s still plagued by flashbacks and hallucinations. To make matters worse, a rockfall blocks the only way out, so Sarah soon finds herself fighting for her life as well as her sanity. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, she becomes convinced that Something Nasty is down there with them…

The Script

The script is extremely well written and pays close attention to character; Marshall is careful enough to invest them with enough backstory to keep tension simmering throughout. The casting of relative unknowns works brilliantly too, as you’re never sure which (if any) of them are going to make it to the end.

The Performances

The performances are extremely good. Natalie Mendoza is fiercely sexy and bears a more than passing resemblance to Lucy Liu; she could easily become a star by accepting Liu’s hand-me-downs. MacDonald and Reid are both very convincing and likeable in their roles and Noone continues to impress after her impressive debut in The Magdalene Sisters. Similarly, Mulder and Buring do a good job with their relatively underwritten roles.

Marshall makes terrific use of his claustrophobic setting, heightening the atmosphere by having his scenes dimly lit by torches or green glow-sticks; he also makes great use of a video-camera’s ‘night vision’ feature to provide the film with one of its biggest shocks. There’s also very little in the way of humour throughout the film, which adds considerably to the intensity of the atmosphere.

Marshall has a definite eye for the memorably nasty image – several of the shots here are liable to stay with you long after you’ve forgotten the rest of the film. One early shot in particular is so shocking that you won’t quite believe it. He also can’t resist a few crowd-pleasing visual references, the most impressive being a subtle homage to Carrie.

The Flaws

That’s not to say that the film isn’t exactly without flaws. For one thing the effects are disappointing in places – there’s an attack of poorly animated CGI bats that would put Batman Begins to shame. Similarly, the ending is as frustrating as it is effective, not least because you can pick a rather large hole in it.

The Conclusion

To sum up, then, The Descent is an extremely atmospheric horror film that delivers more than its fair share of shocks and scares. It’ll definitely make you want to re-think that caving holiday. Highly recommended.

Film Trailer

The Descent (18)
The Descent has been reviewed by 1 users
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Content updated: 17/10/2017 17:57

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