The Brits Rule Horror: A Review of The Descent
So, let's face it. Horror films today are pathetic. They aren't very scary, nor do they elicit the kinds of shock and awe that sci-fi/fantasy/horror films of the 70's and 80's did (anyone here remember or even watched: Alien, Aliens, The Exorcist, the original Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing, Hellraiser, The Entity, Halloween, etc.)
Horror films today are extremely violent, to the point of being cartoonish. Save for a few films like 28 Days Later (which was more sci-fi/thriller), and the Russian indie horror-thriller Night Watch that came out earlier this year, horror movies today aren't scary at all. They're quite boring.
So, you know I was quite skeptical when I heard about and saw early trailers for the British import, The Descent. I was a little intrigued: most of what I saw took place in darkness...all you see are lights flashing and girls screaming. But, it didn't really give much away. But, I was curious so I put it on a list of summer films to see. The cast was mostly British, and the brits seem to have a lock on doing a good horror film with suspense.
The Descent came out August 4th, and damn it, I was stunned! The film was QUITE GOOD! No, SERIOUSLY!!!
The basic plot: A group of female friends led by Juno (Natalie Mendoza) encounter bloodthirsty creatures when they get trapped in a mountain cave due to rockfall. Worst of all they their friendships sour and they discover their real fear is from each other... (from imdb.com)
That's it. But, The Descent was more than that. Suprisingly, it touched upon some very interesting dynamics in regard to gender, morality and even faith.
So, wasn't it totally cool that the ENTIRE cast was female??? I felt that was one of the more original things about the film. Rarely, do you have a horror film in which the main "beacons" of masculinity are conceptualized as women. What I mean is that in horror films, the guys are usually the ones who save the day or protect everyone. In The Descent, the women are fending for themselves and they are KICKING ASS.
Natalie Mendoza is a particular standout as Juno, a no-nonsense caver who is one of the first characters to fight when she battles one of the creatures over Holly's body, the first (and honestly, the MOST annoying character in the film and i was glad she went first) character to get offed by the cave creatures. It's rare that you would have a woman take on a role that we would normally see a man play and be so natural at it. It's even rarer still that you would have a woman of color (Mendoza is Filipina) in this role also.
Shauna McDonald, as the "heroine" Sarah, was also effective as a grief ridden widow who became a bad ass in her own right fighting to survive in the caves. McDonald played her role very well.
Alex Reid (Beth), Saskia Mulder (Rebecca), My-Anna Burning (Sam), and Nora-Jane Noone (Holly) were also very good.
Did anyone get that Rebecca and Sam were sisters???? I didn't..I totally thought they were a couple. But, I checked the film's website, and the synopsis said they were sisters. I REALLY couldn't tell when they were hugged up on each other as one the creatures crawled past them in the tunnel (UNNN HUNNNHHH...HOW YOU DOIN? :))
Wasn't it fucked up how Beth did Juno towards the end? Juno was wrong for fucking Sarah's husband, but did Beth have to wimp out and bust her that way? Did she do it because of how she felt Juno left her to die (which I didn't see as a bad thing: in the circumstances they were in, Juno probably felt she did what she could for Beth. But, Juno also could have dragged her to safety or took her life like Beth asked Sarah to do later.) That dynamic was played out in an interesting, albeit, irritating way.
The ending: What Thee Fuck??? I saw the British alternative ending and felt that it was FAR superior to what you will see in the theater. I felt the ambiguous questions that ending posed (Did Sarah get out alive? Is Juno really dead? Has Sarah gone crazy or is she actually "seeing" her daughter?) were actually good ones and I wish American audiences don't have to wait until the DVD comes out here in the states (it's already out in the UK and Europe)
The plot holes: Why were those creatures there? Were they an offshoot of man, who were developed enough to live underground and in the darkness? How do they breed? I wish these questions were addressed during the film. I think that it might have been interesting to reconfigure the fates of some of the characters. Like, what if the creatures took some of the women to be breeders? We only see one female creature in the film. How to these beings procreate? Or, do they? Where do they procreate? The "Pool of Blood"? The film could have gone MANY places with these questions. But, I guess Neil Marshall (A superb filmmaker who directed the VASTLY underrated and rarely seen werewolf film Dog Soldiers (2002)) did not have the budget or time to go there.
Overall, I give The Descent a grade of A/A-