Short Reviews: The Descent (2005)


The Descent is awesome.

Sarah, Beth and Juno are three friends who all have an interest in extreme sports. We meet them at the end of a whitewater-rafting session, where they’re met by Sarah’s husband Paul and daughter Jessie. On the drive home, Paul drifts into the other lane, and he and Jessie die in the resulting crash, leaving a devastated Sarah behind.

One year later, the three friends meet up in the Appalachian Mountains along with three more adventurous women, Sam, Becca and Holly. Juno’s gathered them all together to go spelunking in a nearby cave, and this is no easy feat – these caves are small, dark, claustrophobic and almost unnavigable.

Disaster strikes when a rock-fall traps them underground, and it’s revealed that not only are they trapped with little food or water, but they’ve also lost half of their equipment in the rock-fall, and to top it all off, they’re in an unknown cave system: Juno, wanting to claim it as their own, misled them into an uncharted cave, so search and rescue won’t know where they are.

Oh, and for added fun, there’s a horde of deformed and bloodthirsty creatures pursuing them. As they’re hunted down, the already-fragile Sarah starts to slip closer and closer to the brink of insanity, leading to a blood-drenched final act that has to be experienced first-hand.

The Descent is one of the best horror movies out there. Not only is it all levels of brown-pants terrifying, but it’s supremely well-written and well-made. This is hard proof that it is not hard to write a movie featuring female leads and have it be amazing. It’s also proof that it’s not hard to make a horror movie full of likeable characters, and in fact, is all the better for it. The film gives us time to care about the characters before shit starts hitting subterranean fans, and it also spends a significant amount of time building up masterful tension and dread.

It doesn’t matter if you’re claustrophobic or not, the caves in this movie will suffocate you. There’s more than enough material to make a movie out of the problems with the spelunking trip in the first place, but things are already at breaking point when the creatures turn up, and from there the film just escalates in fear, suspense and tension until you’re left breathless.

It’s also one of the finest examples of how to use darkness in a film, and with the only sources of light coming from the ladies’ flares and flashlights, the film creates a very organic sense of disorientation and uncertainty in its setting. Jump-scares abound in the film, but they’re worked in as punctuating points in an already terrifying experience.

It’s one of the best horror movies out there, and if you haven’t seen it, you must. Now. Go and watch it right now.

And it’s such a good thing that they never made a sequel; it’d probably be a really crappy and disappointing waste of time.

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