The Descent is a fresh and scary horror film about an all female caving expedition which goes horribly wrong. Written and directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) this is the perfect antidote to slick Hollywood "horrors" which completely fail to frighten the audience. A strong plot, good character development and a series of brutal and terrifying scenes make this a must see for horror fans.
The film opens with a group of female friends white water rafting. They are obviously at the end of their trip and the female lead Sarah gets picked up by her husband. On the way to the hotel they suffer a brutal car accident and Sarah wakes up in hospital to find her husband and child dead. This car crash sequence is beautifully filmed as is the hospital aftermath as Sarah slowly awakens from her ordeal and your interest is immediately grabbed.
A year later she meets up with her friends to go caving in the Appalachian Mountains. A disparate group of six women, the Scottish Sarah, her best friend Beth (English), two Scandinavian half-sisters, the determined Yank Juno, and an Irish thrill seeker named Holly. With the scene firmly set the group embark on their expedition but it soon becomes clear this is not the trip they set out for and things take a decidedly frightening and extremely gory turn for the worse.
Marshall´s direction is excellent, he fully understands how to scare the audience and he´s not afraid to make you jump out of your seat often and without warning. The claustrophobia of the subterranean setting is captured perfectly. There is great use of a range of lighting and he communicates the blind panic and animal survival instinct of the characters very effectively.
It transpires that Juno has led the group down an uncharted caving system and worse the tunnels they are traversing are far from stable. As the women search for a route out their situation plunges to new depths with the revelation that they are not alone in the darkness, in fact some humanoid creatures are stalking them and they are not friendly.
The script is very good and nicely understated; Marshall doesn´t feel the need to over explain the events or the relationships between the central characters and instead lets them come out naturally in the course of events. This gives the production a frighteningly realistic feel which amplifies the terror.
The unfamiliar cast do a great job, especially Shauna Macdonald who plays Sarah. She starts the film as a meek girl and ends up a blood soaked wild woman with murderous intent. The cold hearted Juno is also well portrayed by Natalie Jackson Mendoza, a very strong all action heroine with a vicious streak. The rest of the supporting cast turn in fine performances and the group is mercifully free of the panicking screamer character who usually gets everyone killed.
As the creatures attack things go crazy and the film maintains a breathtaking pace right through to the gripping finale. Another thread runs through the plot hinting at dark secrets within the group and is beautifully tied in to the conclusion. This has been very well-thought out and executed by Marshall.
The Descent can hardly fail to scare you on some level; there is psychological terror, jumpy scares aplenty and an awful lot of disturbing gore. This film is definitely deserving of the horror tag. A good strong plot which is deceptively simple, quality direction, some great acting and the ability to pack a serious punch in the fear stakes make this one to watch.