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The Crawling Eye slithers into THE DESCENT!!!

Hey folks, Harry here with another review of THE DESCENT... old hat for those of you from the UK, but a coming terror for those of us in the colonies. THE DESCENT is a effin' amazing horror film. For many that attended BNAT - this was the film that really really scared the shit out of them. Some, not so much. This is an incredibly claustrophobic and intense film. Damn good horror flick...

Deceptively simple. If pushed to describe the film in two words. Those would be the two I choose. Horror more so than any other genre, with the possible exception of the western, does not have to work hard to please most fans of the genre. Look at the fan-base behind such franchises such as Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and all but one of the Halloween films. Can anyone argue that these are great films? Good films? Yet there’s no denying their imprint as contemporary film iconography. Horror films only have to get one thing right and that’s to tap into somebody’s adrenaline. Be it through legitimate scares, visceral gore or just simple exploitation, fans of horror can be easily pleased. Which can explain how dreck like Cry-Wolf, Venom, Darkness, They, Darkness Falls, etc… continue to be made and more often than not make money. So, surprise, surprise, when a new horror film actually gives us something new.

Neil Marshall’s sophomore effort does exactly that. And If Marshall doesn’t quite reinvent the wheel, he certainly added some nice and shiny tires. Marshall, if you remember, made his debut with 2002’s Dog Soldiers, a competent low-budget amalgam of Aliens and Predator which finds a group of British soldiers trapped in the Scottish Highlands by strange, immobile werewolf suits. While not necessarily an auspicious debut; the special effects were limited, the acting amateurish, there was just enough spark in the writing and direction to peg this director as somebody to watch. Cut to a few years later. If you were one of those who pegged him as somebody to watch, you can now pat yourselves on the back. This is one of the most confident horror films I have seen in years. Every move by the filmmakers seems to be assured and a capitalization of the medium and genre.

Mere minutes into the film and we have our first superbly executed jaw-dropper. Before this however, we meet our daredevil heroines (yes, heroines, the only appearance of the x gene registers as barely a cameo) fighting through the rapids of some nameless white water deathtrap. An extraordinary sequence in it’s own right, every splash, pound and crack will put you right in the middle of the action. (On a side note, seeing this film in theaters is the obvious preference but if you don’t have 5.1, do what you think you need to do to find somebody that does. The Region 2 release creates a new reference for 5.1 PAL). This sequence lets us know what kind of women we are dealing with. Strong, tough and brutal, always looking for the next challenge. Make no mistake, though, none of these women are what you would classify as ‘butch’. No easy stereotypes here. Tough and feminine. Another nod to Marshall’s seemingly favorite film. Once this sequence ends, the aforementioned shocker occurs. The friends seem to drift after the travesty. Guilt drives Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza) to America and sorrow plunges Sarah (Natalie Jackson Mendoza) into a slightly unhinged stupor. A year passes. Juno tries to assemble the group together for a healing trip. The women reconvene in the Appalachian mountains for a tourist-friendly spelunking trip in which all hell breaks loose and a descent is made both figuratively and literally.

I think the success of this film is in the succinct, economic concept of six women and a truly frightening antagonist. A horror film set in a cave is such an obvious conceit, it’s amazing this is the first film to exploit such a unique atmosphere (ignoring last year’s abysmal ‘The Cave’). Aside from a few cheap scare tactics, the tension mounts slowly, palpable in every frame. David Julyan’s deft score (inspired by a few choice Carpenter themes) accentuates every move with an early slight nod to ‘Deliverance’. As the women progress deeper into the cave, claustrophobia takes control. As someone who has done some spelunking, it’s obvious Marshall has done his homework. Even if you have taken one of those guided tours through well-lit tourist traps, you can feel how oppressive those Earth walls can be….And wouldn’t you know it, through the deceit of one of the characters who wanted a more personal bonding experience, they don’t find themselves in a tourist attraction but a new system. A cave unmarked by human presence. Yet something is found that might lead a character to believe otherwise. To delve too deeply into the plot would be to spoil surprises, but the level of suspense generated by the film is truly nail-biting.

The use of lighting in this film is masterly, making expert use of the subtle blue glow of a flare, the flickering red and yellows of a kerosene-soaked torch, the lighting seems to be swallowed up into blackness in all the appropriately strategic spots. Even an ingenuis use for the oft-abused night-vision camera is incorporated here. The two leads, Shauna Macdonald and Natalie Jackson Mendoza, are quite good throughout proving equally adept at the melodrama as the action. When a climatic confrontation happens, don’t be surprised to find yourself conflicted about where your loyalties might lay. One of the two minor flaws (the other is the superfluous use of a few cheap scares) is that some of the supporting gals never quite get the screen time to fully flesh out their characters. An early dialogue scene in a cabin gives us a few names and personality traits but nothing that truly stays with us. An issue that might lessen what we invest in these characters and ultimately their fates. Much has been made by the British press about the final sequence of the film but this is where I digress to the two words that start off this review. One for each of the ways you might choose to look at it.

Minor quibbles aside, if you consider yourself a horror fan, you would do well to seek this film out which sadly also continues the trend of having to look outside of America to find something new in the horror genre and, dare I say it?, scary yet poignant. From Miike and the Pang brothers to Gans and Aja to now Marshall, the least we can hope for is to keep these guys out of Hollywood a little while longer.

The Crawling Eye

Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 28, 2006, 1:20 p.m. CST

    I saw this ages ago. Ain't It Slow News, this is.

    by Anchoriite


  • Jan. 28, 2006, 1:35 p.m. CST

    The Cave..

    by HolyCalamity

    I just say it, while it's not a good film, I don't think it was terrible. Plus the dvd transfer is great, glad some are utilizing HD. COLE HAUSER ROCKS!

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 1:36 p.m. CST

    I'm a dick..

    by HolyCalamity

    just SAW it, not Say it...

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 1:53 p.m. CST

    It's damn good but you NEED surround sound.

    by DavidCamp

    Big TV, surround sound, region 2 DVD. I recommend everyone unable to see the movie in cinemas to try as best as possible to replicate the experience at home. Surround-sound is ESSENTIAL to fully appreciate what Neil Marshall has done. The horror mostly comes through the breathtaking sound work. It's a shame nobody has seen the picture, because the SFX are academy-award calibre. Did I mention it's pretty fucking scary?

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 1:57 p.m. CST

    Is this getting released in theaters here or just DVD. I'm c

    by modlight

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 2:14 p.m. CST

    This isn't as good as all that

    by performingmonkey

    OK, if you want a movie to make you jump out of your seat at the theater then this is that movie. However, those moments only come due to sudden loud noise or a quick cut or something, nothing really inspiring or clever. The difference with this movie is that it's British and it isn't even trying to be American, which is refreshing. Ridley Scott's Alien also worked in this way. A space movie hot on the heels of Star Wars and it was a million miles away from it. Not that The Descent comes close to Alien, but a lot of the movie plays like the Tom Skerrit shaft sequence. Claustrophobia, low lighting, not knowing where the scare is going to come from. Where The Descent fails IMO is that there's no satisfying conclusion for any of the characters. They probably realised this so then gave the end that twist that leaves you wondering what actually happened. But there's no excuse for how these women turn into fucking maniacs. And the creatures are lame, and are way too generic. The sound design is literally stolen from Predator and Alien, yet these look more like men running around covered in any old crap the crew could find. I don't's OK to watch once, but then the second time is without the scares so what's the point?

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 2:19 p.m. CST

    How the hell is this movie fooling everybody?

    by pfizzle

    Am I the only one who saw through the unrealistically attractive cast? The characters are so incredibly unbelievable and one dimensional. There isn't a single scare in the movie that doesn't come from some kind of simple, negative-space jolt. The editing is too tight to ever fully let you get into the movie. And who the fuck would ever believe that some dumb, amateur adventurist chic from the UK would know the exact location of an otherwise completely unknown and unexplored cave in the backwoods of South Carolina?

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 2:20 p.m. CST

    Karloff..karloff..he's not fit to smell my shit!!

    by BankyEdwards2309

    Fantastic flick this. NO star actors trying to steal the lime light off the rest of the cast, no over the top yanks saying cheesey 'we gotta get outta here,goddamit' type lines. And no hairy arsed blokes minus their shirts trying to weave a love story into the mix. It's just runs along, does it's thing, then goes home. Of course it's British - we always make stuff first and the best and then just wait for the Yanks to come along and try and imitate it and make a complete fuck up of it.

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 2:27 p.m. CST

    The Crawling Eye remake

    by pencil-man

    I'd watch that one...

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 2:29 p.m. CST

    x gene?

    by MrD

    Unless this is set in the Marvel Universe, I think you mean Y chromosome.

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 3:29 p.m. CST

    Why can't

    by Turd Furgeson

    Why can't we just get an old fashioned horror film? Fuck "SCREAM" for opening the door to the last 10 years of some of the worst horror films I have ever seen... Fucking stupid pieces of shit.

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 3:41 p.m. CST

    I hated Dog Soldiers, but i loved The Descent

    by pokadoo

    It's like having a bunch of Ripley's stuck down a hole and then infecting them with that virus from 28 Days Later. Hell, it even has a thumb-eye interface, like in 28. Go see, if you wanna see a real horror film, that's both tense AND gory!

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 3:46 p.m. CST

    I watched it in a dogshit transfer that was about 3 inches wide

    by RezE11even

    And I literally fucking THREW my computer across the room. It's scary, fuckers. I couldn't make out all the dialogue and half the shots were blurry, so I couldn't really tell you the story aspects of the different women. Or that end with the cake.

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 3:54 p.m. CST

    Not bad...

    by cagirl

    "Which can explain how dreck like Cry-Wolf, Venom, Darkness, They, Darkness Falls, etc

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 4:24 p.m. CST

    I didn't like this film.

    by RowanM

    I had a little alcohol and I tried, but I wasn't scared.

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 5:02 p.m. CST

    Dog Soldiers suffered hard for all the over-hype it received on

    by chickychow

    thought it was barely mediocre... that said this seems like it might be fun.

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 5:30 p.m. CST

    Is The Descent a good movie? No.

    by judderman

    But it is a very good scary movie, which is all it sets out to be.

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 5:30 p.m. CST

    Descent is great.....

    by Jarek

    I've seen it 5 times since I first watched it almost 8 months ago, and it's still a very well made horror film in my mind.

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 5:31 p.m. CST

    Amen performingmonkey!

    by Edward Brock

    Decent but nothing special, really. The creatures were kinda lame. Looked like Gollum gone cannibal.

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 6:09 p.m. CST

    Saw it last summer.

    by Rowley Birkin QC

    Trust me, it's not worth waiting for.

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 6:29 p.m. CST

    And comparing that cast of simpering twits to Ripley...

    by Rowley Birkin QC

    is a huge insult to Sigourney Weaver. Fucking ludicrous over-hype.

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 7:46 p.m. CST

    Don't believe the buzz-kill..

    by tmifune78

    Ignore all the jackasses trying to say this isn't a great film. It's a streamlined, balls to the walls, horror-action film with a great concept and even better execution. It does need to be watched in 5.1, though, to get the full effect. I don't think anyone is saying this is the second coming of Aliens but compared to the shit coming down the horror pipe recently....

  • Might want to fix that ...

  • Jan. 28, 2006, 10:37 p.m. CST

    Phillips DVP642 + = Old News

    by Veraxus

    Seriously folks, just pick up a region free DVD player and you can import everything you want from Amazon UK. I've had The Descent on DVD for a couple months already (I also had Switchblade Romance on DVD for almost a year before High Tension was released here) and I recieved my copy of Wolf Creek two weeks ago. Another benefit of importing is you don't wind up seeing/owning the pussified censored US cuts (Studios often recut movies for their US release). Getting imports from the UK is as difficult as a point and click these days - take advantage of it. I'd also remind you all - Delicatessen has never even seen a domestic DVD release. Just one of many excellent films you can only get from our neighbors overseas.

  • Jan. 29, 2006, 1:34 a.m. CST

    The best horror film in years.

    by The Wrong Guy

    The Descent is brilliant- saw it yesterday. It's like a wonderfully eclectic mix of Cliffhanger, Pitch Black and Blair Witch. Only much, much better than all those movies. Highly recommended.

  • Jan. 29, 2006, 1:45 a.m. CST

    See this knowing as little as possible about it...

    by ribbitking

    I freaking loved it, but i'm not sure how my experience would have been had i see it with the way it might be marketed when it comes to usa.

  • Jan. 29, 2006, 3:53 a.m. CST

    Lasting impression

    by colleague76

    Im one of the lucky ones who saw this last year.This movie will stay with you for a very long time after you leave the cinema. Thank christ for the non Disney ending.

  • Jan. 29, 2006, 5:09 a.m. CST


    by SalvatoreGravano

    This dull and unoriginal "adaptation" of the "cave devil" hoax has been out *on DVD* for months. What's next, a "Phantom Menace" review?

  • Jan. 29, 2006, 5:29 a.m. CST

    old news...

    by Wyrdy the Gerbil

    For fucks sake wake up morons just how is this "old news" all the pisshead Brits(and a few others) whining i saw this 8 months ago and its so yesterday.. "get a life wankers the film was`nt even been released in the US yet".... so American site,new release,not fucking old news ..plonkers

  • Jan. 29, 2006, 8:59 a.m. CST

    Avoid this movie!-- -- -

    by dahauk

    Thinking this was a film version of Jeff Long's 'The Descent' novel I watched this movie. It apparently hasn't anything to do with the book of the same name which is about a group of cave explorers discovering a underground race of violent creatures/beings, complete with vast subterranian cities. This film was truly a waste of my hour and a half. Too darkly lit ( know it was supposedly in dark caves lit only by available light, but common, it's a fraggin movie, not an audio production--we need to actually SEE stuff), too much action covered in quick, blurry cuts, scrawny naked actors with rubber ears and false teeth that look like Golumn/Nosferatu combined jumping out at actresses in dark tunnels. I believe that what you don't see can sometimes be scarier than what's seen, under the right staging, but there's nothin here folks except dark, blurry shots of something screaming, a bit of shouting and grunting,lots of cheap shot shockers and some juicy sound effects. Do yourself a real favor, seek out the book instead. There, i've saved you a few bucks you would've been pissed you'd spent. Now give me a dollar.

  • Jan. 29, 2006, 11:17 a.m. CST

    A recent Empire movie poll of the top 201 movies of all time (vo

    by DirkD13"

  • Just in case there's anyone who needs any clarification.

  • Jan. 30, 2006, 3:14 a.m. CST

    top movie

    by Fortunesfool

    and one of the best car crashes since meet Joe Black.

  • Jan. 30, 2006, 3:19 a.m. CST

    I think it is clear people like Pfizzel above

    by elab49

    just didn't bother following the film. She didn't just come across it by walking around and falling in. And it was by a tourist route - even the review mentions that. But the reviewer didn't pick up the regularity of their annual get togethers either. Then again, as they are wrong on Dog Soldiers too....

  • Jan. 30, 2006, 4:51 a.m. CST

    this move was dull, disjointed and (did I mention?) dull

    by CrispyOne

  • Jan. 30, 2006, 6:46 a.m. CST

    Repeat Viewing

    by Spazwankle

    I saw this at the cinema and thought it was very enjoyable, but when I got round to buying it on DVD a few months later, I didn't feel quite the same. It does have some very good scares, but on repeat viewing when you know when everything is going to happen, there isn't much else to hold the film together. Great shocks for first time viewing, but lacking much else in story and character department etc. for second viewing.

  • Jan. 30, 2006, 10:11 a.m. CST

    performing monkey...

    by mike_n

    Hits the nail on the head wih this film. Very run of the mill. Nothing but "BOO!" scares of the generic cave monsters appearing out of the darkness. Was sorely disappointed with this film after watching "Dog Soldiers".