The Descent


The second in a series of reviews of films shown at this year’s Fantasia international film festival in Montreal.

A group of women gather together one year after a tragic loss to explore a network of caves and try to buddy up and try to put the past behind them. Once below ground everything that can go wrong does, and the group discovers that they aren’t the only ones roaming the darkness.

Many movie pundits decry the lack of originality in modern cinema. Personally, I’m less interested in how original an idea is than I am in its execution. Most of the films that are considered horror classics have simple storylines which have been told dozens, hundreds, thousands of times before. In every case it’s not a matter of what is shown but how. The Descent is one of those films, and I have very little doubt that it will rank right up there with those stripped-down classic films as time goes on.

descentOver half of The Descent is a slow burn, with some subtle interpersonal drama, a few well-executed jump scares and a perfect setting for people with claustrophobia. It’s slow, but not quite plodding, and sustains just enough interest to keep your attention. And just when you begin to wonder why everyone’s hyping this movie, everything goes straight to Hell and keeps up the pace right through to the end in a tour de force of carnage and blood.

Neil Marshall’s previous film was the sleeper hit Dog Soldiers, and despite the surface differences there are numerous similarities between that film and The Descent. The protagonists, a group composed entirely of the same gender, must battle their way through an unknown enemy in unfamiliar territory. Perhaps the most refreshing aspect shared between both films, aside from the lack of a romantic subplot, is Marshall’s insistence in making the threat strong instead of turning the characters weak. The women in The Descent aren’t trained warriors as in Dog Soldiers, but they are athletic, smart and definitely capable of swinging a pick axe in a pinch. Like the men in Dog Soldiers, the characters in The Descent use every resource available to them without the need to tout their ingenuity or blather on about it.

Special mention has to be made for the incredible performances of the creatures. Their agility is remarkable. Marshall uses every trick in the book to lend them feral grace and a violent gravity to their every move. I’m not at all sure how much, if any, CGI was used in The Descent, but the simple yet strongly effective make-up could make The Descent the poster boy for the practical effects set.

So far as straight-up nailbiters go, you won’t do any better than The Descent this year. If you get a chance to catch it in its upcoming theatrical run, don’t hesitate.

9 Responses to “The Descent”

  1. platyjoe Says:

    Just saw the trailer last night on another Lion’s Gate film I rented, and man, it looked good. Glad to hear a positive review. Nothin better than a tightly filmed nail-biter!

  2. CrzyDJM Says:

    I’m stoked for this one, but I’ve heard the American release has a different ending…

    Now THAT doesn’t make me happy…

    We talked about it here;

  3. paul Says:

    I’m seeing this tonight at the Rue Morgue showing.

  4. Steve Says:

    Hope you enjoy the show, Paul. Let us know what you think.

  5. Fred Says: is showing a sneak peek of the US release early in theaters. Check it out here:

  6. paul Says:

    Not too shabby! I can’t say I loved it, but it’s definitely one of the best new horror films I’ve seen in a long time, just an incredibly effective and well-crafted flick that delivers both frights and gore. The audience I saw it with was jumping and screaming and squirming during the entire film, and while the jump scares didn’t get me personally (not quite sure why), the claustrophobia sure did. I sure as hell appreciated the fact that these were adult characters and not flavour-of-the-month dumb teens, but I still would have liked to see a little more character development–I had trouble distinguishing between some of the lesser characters once they got their gear on and went into the dark mine.

    The ending was weak, but I’m not sure I would have liked the UK ending much better. I’m getting tired of those “types” of tacked-on endings. (Sorry, trying to stay spoiler-free here.)

  7. Steve Says:

    I had the same response regarding not being able to distinguish between the characters once they got in the mine. The second time I watched it I just ignored that aspect of the movie and just enjoyed the carnage. Would it have been more effective if you could tell them apart? Yeah, but I don’t know how that could be accomplished considering the lighting and costume necessities of this kind of film.

  8. Stacie Says:

    Great review. I loved this movie for many of the reasons you cite- particularly the idea of a “strong threat”. I thought the way the characters reacted to this threat was very well-drawn and quite realistic. Given their experience with “extreme sports” (for lack of a better term), they were mentally capable of dealing with the panic as it was happening, using the adrenaline rush to their advantage. At the same time, they were all panicking right underneath their level-headed exteriors.

    I’m just happy to see a mature, adult-oriented modern horror film.

  9. CrzyDJM Says:

    This movie was AWESOME…my only disappointment was that I will have to wait for DVD to see the “original” ending…

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