I considered not mentioning it, you know. Maybe, I thought, maybe it would be noble of me to completely ignore it and not mention its significance. After all, if I ignored it I would heavily imply that it’s not an issue and that’s where I would like it to be ideally. The main cast of “The Descent” is entirely female and at no point did it ever feel unnatural. Of course, the truth of the matter is that it is unnatural for horror movies to have such an emphasis on an all-female cast that keeps its “personal belongings” personal, but at no point did it ever feel weird or forced and the characters that are weak are not weak because they are female. They are weak because they are weak, it really is brilliant to see. I’m not going to say that I believe all movies should have a solely female cast just to be feminist, but that “The Descent” has proved that it is perfectly believable seeing women survive in tough situations and fight for their lives as any man could and would.
There is one man in the story however but he swiftly kicks the bucket early on. He was Sarah’s (Shauna Macdonald) husband and he died in a car crash that left Sarah in a coma and her husband and daughter dead. A year later, she meets up with Juno (Natalie Mendoza) to go caving with a few of her friends and to perhaps calm her down after her ordeal a year prior. Of course, nothing says “therapeutic” like claustrophobic darkness and horrific creatures intent on ingesting you like I would a treasure trove of Jaffa Cakes; quickly and mercilessly. The film will tease you with a cabin in the woods early on though this isn’t where the blood spills. The cave miles underground is a brilliant setting for a cerebral horror, and it is rarely ever taken advantage of quite this well. Lighting is definitely not plentiful and this just adds to the claustrophobia as the space you have, you can’t even see.
Also worth mentioning is that a total of six people actually enter this cave and this just makes everything even more cramped. Of course people die throughout, and people are separated at certain points but it always feels uncomfortably close. Everyone is together when the first attack happens and this takes place in a huge dark room that is awfully weird in how wide open it feels, but also how limiting the space is. It combines to create a really stellar initial encounter that absolutely terrified me and caused me to jump out of my skin when the creatures began to make their move. I hope that implying jump scares isn’t perceived as a negative right away, because they can be effective and this is a brilliant example of that. It’s about an hour into the movie before things get really weird and before this it’s delightful, as Neil Marshall masterfully teases us with scenarios in which the main characters take risks that don’t feel forced (always) and people get stuck in tight spaces and we can’t help but think that something will grab their legs and pull them away. It left me wondering what the threat actually was for a while and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s like the “Jaws” method but without actually telling you that it’s hiding from you, until the inevitable unveiling later.
Colour is surprisingly a factor. Green glow sticks that make the walls glisten unnaturally, flares that ignite the surrounding area in red fire and one particular scene where a character falls into a pool of blood and organs. Only to re-emerge looking like Carrie White in an area surrounded with mixtures of pure white skeletons and blood red innards everywhere. It’s gruesome and gloriously vivid. “The Descent” knows exactly how to take you for a roller coaster ride of a movie that never lets up once the wheels get rolling. Whenever boredom begins to crop its head, it is decapitated instantly by a change of scenario and pace. You’ll find yourself in shock after some of the things that take place that will just take you by pure surprise and you won’t be prepared for them. Not necessarily scared per say, but unprepared nevertheless.
What Neil Marshall does with “The Descent” is terrific. It accomplishes everything a horror of this ilk should, and doesn’t show much pretence of being mentally significant. Though it does leave you with some things to think about after you’re done processing everything that just happened in front of you, and you just sat there and watched.