The 2005 release of this nightmare-inducing gem marked one of the most finely-crafted horror movies of recent years. The Descent utilized strong performances and thoughtful directing to deliver one of the most fascinating displays of human behavior in an unthinkably terrifying environment.
The film opens with three friends– Juno, Sarah and Beth, whitewater rafting in Scotland. Sarah’s husband and their daughter wave and cheer from the bank. On the drive back to their hotel, a car collision occurs that leaves Sarah’s husband and daughter dead.
One year, later Sarah, Juno and four of their friends reunite at a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains (filmed in Scottland). To help Sarah recover from the accident, the six adventure-seekers enter an unmapped cave system and become trapped. They soon find that they are being hunted by mysterious creatures that lurk in the caverns’ damp shadows and must work together to survive.
The Descent premiered at the Scottish horror film festival Dead by Dawn on 6 July 2005. The film opened commercially to the public in the UK on 10 July 2005, showing on 329 screens. The film received limited releases in other European countries and went on to make $57 million worldwide.
Despite being filmed mostly in a studio set, the caves depicted in The Descent look incredible– even with the carefully limited lighting that comes from the female protagonists’ in-film flashlights and glow sticks. The claustrophobic environment that suffocate the characters creates enough terror all on its own– even without the carnivorous creatures that call the caves home.
The sound effects similarly lend to the atmospheric tension. The cave drips and the characters’ voices echo in more open caverns. And the sounds of the creatures screeching (which serves the same purpose of cave-dwelling bats to navigate without seeing) further builds on the suspense that crescendo when the characters are confronted with the aggressive, human-like creatures.
Writer, director Neil Marshall also develops a strong sense of subtext throughout the film with hints within the characters’ movement, facial expressions, glances and dialog. The drama featured in The Descent is far from disposable. Marshal’s attention to narrative detail is sharp, and it makes the motivation of each character– to protect one another, leave each behind or seek revenge– all the more compelling when the monsters come out.
Part horror survival, part psychological thriller, The Descent offers viewers a subterranean, CGI-free monster fright fest comparable to few and superb acting from all six lead actresses. The Descent is not only one of the most riveting indie horror movies of this decade, it’s one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
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