the descent | neil marshall | shauna macdonald | natalie mendoza | alex reid | adventure | thriller | united kingdom | creature | creatures | monster | monsters | vacation | saskia mulder | myanna buring | nora-jane noone | oliver milburn | molly kayll | craig conway
Film: The Descent
Director: Neil Marshall
Writer: Neil Marshall
Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza and Alex Reid
This was a film that I checked out after it came out on DVD for my first viewing. I thought the previews looked good, but I didn’t realize how good until after finally seeing it. It’s been some time since that viewing and got the chance at the Gateway Film Center. It was part of their Horror 101 series and I’m glad I got the chance to see it on the big screen there. I’m also now giving it a third viewing as part of the Podcast Under the Stairs’ Summer Challenge Series for the 2000s. The synopsis is a caving expedition goes horribly wrong, as the explorers become trapped and ultimately pursed by a strange breed of predators.
We kick off with a few women white water rafting. There’s Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid). Awaiting them is Sarah’s husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) and her daughter, Jessica (Molly Kayll). He helps Juno out of the water and Beth watches them. Sarah and her family get into their vehicle to head back to the hotel. Sarah’s world is turned upside down when they get into a car accident, with Paul and Jessica not making it.
A year later, she meets up with Juno and Beth as well as the rest of her friends. Joining them is Rebecca (Saskia Mulder) who is a pretty experienced climber. Also there is her sister, Sam (MyAnna Buring), who is in medical school and Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) who is Juno’s protégée. The following morning they are going to check out a cave in the Appalachia Mountains.
Something doesn’t feel right when they get there, but they go anyways. On the way up, they see a dead elk, but no one really thinks anything of it. They go into the cave and they encounter their first problem, tight tunnel. Sarah is hearing children’s laughter and ends up getting stuck. She starts to panic and Beth helps her through. A cave-in happens and they are now trapped. To make matters worse, Juno lied and no one knows where they are as this is an unexplored cave system. They have to find a way out as no one is going to come looking for them. They run into a much more dangerous threat though as well.
I wanted to lead off stating that this film is really two different ones combined together. One of the scariest aspects of the film is the setting. I’m not claustrophobic, but this film really got to me a couple parts. They are trapped under the Earth, it is pitch black and some of the tunnels are extremely tight. The unknown of will they or will they not make it out creates a feeling of dread. There is good writing here when Rebecca is explaining the descent into madness in the cave could cause and actually states a bunch of symptoms that will come back up later.
Now the second half of the film becomes a creature feature. What I like about this though, is the truth of what they are. There are some subtle things that this film has in it. For one, there’s the cave painting. While I was watching it this time, I was wondering how long it would take a species to become what we have in this film. Originally I was thinking that this would have come from Native American times, so it would be a couple hundred years. The more I think about it though, this could legit be caveman times when they started to live in this cave system, which would really explain it so much more.
There is another aspect to this film that happens at the climax. Juno is harboring more secrets than she is letting on and there is an amazing change in Sarah. I absolutely loved it and seeing her rise from the pool that has this nasty layer of floating things on it is great. The character arch there is wonderful. It actually gives the film a dual meaning to the title. Not only are they descending into the cave, but they are also descending into madness dealing with what they do.
To the pacing of the film, which I think is great. The film never hits a lull and it really just builds tension throughout. As I stated above, we get two different films that mesh together seamlessly. I think that getting the characters trapped is scary to start off with. I could have had a film with just that and still enjoyed it. It really raises the stakes. I also like that we’re hearing things that we aren’t sure are real and seeing things as well fairly early on. Part of this is Sarah is unstable, but some of it is real.
Shifting gears to acting here next. Macdonald is an interesting character to me. She had her whole world turned upside down due to tragedy. I feel horrible for her. She is trying to piece herself back together and then this happens. Her character is broken, but as I said, I love the change that happens to her to become the woman she becomes. Mendoza really becomes a villain in this film as well. She seems like a good friend, but there are subtle things we see. Once they are revealed, she becomes worse and worse. I don’t want her to seem all bad. When she gets separated from Sarah, she does want to go back for her. I think that uneven feeling I have is helped by her performance being solid. I thought the rest of the cast works for what was needed and each is unique. This really shows as they are attacked as well. I couldn’t finish this out without giving props to the actors that played creatures. They did an excellent job.
The effects of the film I liked for the most part. Whenever they went practical, I thought they did a good job. The blood looked good. There is a bit of gore in the film and one scene in particular really made me cringe. The look of the creatures was absolutely amazing. There is a bit of CGI here and you could tell some of it is a green screen. Not enough to ruin it. I also feel the film is shot amazing though on top of that. Giving the setting life and making almost a character is really a plus for me.
The last thing to cover before wrapping this up would be the soundtrack. I will admit for the most part it didn’t stand out to me. What did though was the use of sounds in the cave. We see that with Sarah and the children’s laugh. We know it isn’t real, but it is creepy. The yelling and the echoes are used strategically as well.
Now with that said, I liked this film the first time I saw it and it just got better to me after this viewing. It is very well written and the two concepts that are meshed together are seamless. The acting really reveals this and was great to bring these characters to life. I feel the pacing was good and builds tension throughout the film. The setting really helps there as well with the building of dread and claustrophobia. Practical effects were good, but I did have some slight issues with the CGI. The sound design was solid as well. If you haven’t seen this film, I would recommend it. I found this to be great film for sure.
My Rating: 9.5 out of 10