The Descent begins with death as Sarah, her husband Paul & their daughter Jessica are involved in a car crash. The trio had just returned from white-water rafting with friends. Paul & Jessica are killed in the crash but Sarah survives.
A year later & Sarah is meeting her friends for a long overdue reunion in the mountains of North Carolina, USA. Sarah has struggled to get past the death of her husband & daughter & the hope is that the group can re-connect by going spelunking together.
The group is made up of Sarah, Beth, Sam, Rebecca, Holly & led by Juno who has planned their cave-diving spot.
The next day they enter the caves & are wowed by what they find, the group bond & explore but end up in a spot of trouble while passing through a tight section. Part of the cave collapses behind them & Juno reveals that this isn’t the caves they had planned to go too. Rather than going to a fully explored cave system she has taken them to an unknown one hoping for more of an adventure.
The rest of the group are even more furious when they realise that rescue isn’t an option as they were expected to be in the other caves.
Forced to move deeper into the caves to find an exit they find signs of previous cave explorers as well as a map that might lead them to another exit but they’re not alone.
The caves are home to vicious human-like creatures that are blind but have a keen sense of smell & hearing. It’s not long before the group are under attack from the creatures. Survival just became a whole lot tougher…
The Descent is a brutal movie to watch, filled with realistic frights & terrors with a toe that’s dipped slightly into fantasy. Having to deal with the feeling of claustrophobia that the caves have, tension between the group over things unsaid & then the visceral creatures too creates a movie that will leave you on the edge of your seat for the most part.
The actors do a fantastic job…an all female cast that avoids annoying stereotypes. These are powerful, independent women who play their roles with gusto. Sarah is effectively our lead, dealing with a lot of grief & clearly distancing herself from her friends, in particular Juno. The closer of the two, or at least they were, their scenes make for a compelling sub-plot that is fairly obvious from the opening 5 minutes.
It’s not exactly an important plot point but it does set up the finale nicely.
Those who played the creatures (known as crawlers) revel in their roles, these things are like Gollum on steroids & really nasty. They are humans that have evolved to live within the dark, blind but with incredible hearing & a sense of smell. They communicate through high pitched screams & clicks & have almost in-human like climbing abilities.
They also quite like us as their choice of food & won’t hesitate to attack & rip the women apart. They are terrifying & the desperation to survive is felt by the viewer as they are separated in a brutal attack & left to fend for themselves.
Tension is what helps make The Descent such a compelling watch as it never lets up. Every sequence or scene is dripping in intrigue & danger, you can’t tear your eyes away for a moment.
The film has some stunning shots that just add to the bleak outlook the film has. Sarah rising from the pool of gore & blood emerging in an almost feral like state to take on the crawlers is spectacular.
Finally The Descent has one of the finest endings I’ve seen in a modern horror movie, if you thought The Mist was too bleak…well, you’ll probably not enjoy this.
(Note – Alternative endings were shot including one that cut out the last minute of footage. That ending was what American audiences saw & was the basis for the sequel).
A modern classic from a director who knows how make great horror (Neil Marshall – Dog Soldiers). Scary, tense & a delightful watch even if it makes you feel uncomfortable at times.