Twitter Plot Summary: A group of female friends go spelunking, where they encounter more than they bargained for. I’m talking about monsters!
Director: Neil Marshall
Key Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone, Oliver Milburn
Five Point Summary:
1. Okay, as openings go, that was quite a shocker.
2. Who in their right mind would go spelunking anyway? I think I’ve just answered my own question…
3. The soundtrack definitely has a “The Thing” tinge to it. Bom bom…
4. So that’s where Gollum ended up…
5. That’s a good ending.
For some reason the template created by The Thing in 1982 has not been used prominently in the last 30 years, be they horror films or otherwise. There are a few aspects to that film that are replicated here, and I would think that the parallels were a deliberate choice given that the soundtrack has a distinct John Carpenter feel at key points. The Descent also uses an all-female cast, in contrast to the all-male presence in The Thing. Without dipping too far into spoiler territory, both films also share a similar finale, at least tonally. In many ways Neil Marshall as a writer and a director borrows ideas from many different sources, but he’s more open about his influences compared to some creatively-minded people, or perhaps just more attuned to it. In any case, he takes elements from other films and genres and then adds his own twist to create something slightly new.
The Descent plays on classic horror movie traditions by taking an activity that grew in popularity in recent years – in this case, spelunking, or inverted mountain climbing as I like to describe it (perhaps inaccurately) – and adds a terror-related element to mess with our heads. The notion of spelunking is horror enough for most people, a claustrophobic and dimly lit setting made all the worse by the added presence of killer mutants living in this underground network of caves. Of course, there’s a twist – they handed in a plan for a completely different set of caves, so nobody in the outside world knows where they are. When a cave-in leaves them cut off from the only known exit, they have to make their way through this uncharted cave system and seek an alternative route to the surface.
In that same classic horror movie tradition the script is in no rush to kick off what I will call the “proper” scares. The worst you have to expect in the opening third is a couple of jump scares as central character Sarah (MacDonald) relives the car accident that now haunts her on a daily basis. Her story is the core narrative and influences how the other characters interact, and is one of the reasons why they all get together for this in the first place. The first hints of something being amiss come around the halfway point, and from this point forward it rarely lets up. Unfortunately for this group of friends, there are creatures lurking in the caves that feast on living flesh, so what was already a precarious situation becomes even more desperate as time goes on.
Of course, Neil Marshall does use a number of classic horror tropes to build up the tension – an array of jump scares, grasping for a weapon just out of arm’s reach, or using quick cuts so it’s not immediately clear what’s happening. Whilst it does adhere to the “seen it all before” mantra, that doesn’t detract from the fact it’s still really good fun and a creative use of the setting. It’s also laced with claret, appeasing gore hounds and steadfastly maintaining its desire to be as violent as possible within the boundaries of the story. It may not be entirely original, but it works.
Favourite scene: It’s a couple of scenes, but they’re linked – spoilers ahoy – Juno accidentally stabs Beth in the neck with a pickaxe, then later Sarah finds Beth… who is still alive. Just about.
Quote: “This is just a poxy cave and there’s nothing left to be afraid of, I promise.”
Silly Moment: One of them makes a break for daylight… and falls down a massive hole.