Friday, February 11, 2011

The Descent (2005)
UK --- horror

Dir: Neil Marshall

The heyday of British horror has long since passed, and I’m not really sure what they find interesting anymore other than romantic comedies, period pieces, and taut crime thrillers. I do know that they’ve never really been masters of the genre, outside of the Hammer films and the Amicus anthologies. Let there be no doubt, they are master thespians, but getting down and dirty into exploitative horror, was never really their forte. That being said, I found “The Descent” pretty scary, as the viewer quite literally gradually descends with the characters into the depths of horror.

The story focuses on Sarah as she and her outdoorsy adventuresome friends enjoy stuff like white-water rafting and spelunking. It’s returning from one of these trips that Sarah is in a deadly car accident with her husband and daughter; she ends up being the only survivor. To get her back into living and enjoying life, her friends plan another outdoor getaway in the Appalachian Mountains in the good ole’ US of A. Her friends don’t necessarily consist of the formula Facts of Life/Golden Girls set with a spunky butch chick, a sexpot, a stoic leader, and a complete ditz, but somehow I still got that feeling the character types were there, just underneath their brazen exterior. The one element that is thrown in for good storytelling is a traitor, pointing to an Asiatic mixed girl named Juno who seems is revealed to our heroine as someone who cheated with her husband. The trip inside the Appalachian Mountains is a daring one, as they really don’t know where they’re going, even with a map it’s unclear if anyone ever got out alive. But they’re professionals, and they give it a shot. The only thing they didn’t count on was a race of subterranean mole-like creatures, which actually look more human than anything else. They quickly remind any comic book fan of the Fantastic Four’s enemy The Mole Man, particularly his canon fodder.

Underground landslides eventually separate the group. One by one, the groups are mercilessly killed by the humanoid like mole creatures. Sarah, however plays possum in a pool of blood and bones from past victims. The film leads us to find some revelations about Sarah’s relationship with her friends particularly Juno who not only cheated with Sarah’s husband, but accidentally kills one of their friends underground and leaves her for dead. When Sarah finds the friend, she tells her the truth of Juno, and Sarah stealthily makes her way out of the tunnels, finding Juno in her path. But there’s very little time for soap opera revenge, as the mole creatures are hunting them down. But Sarah wounds Juno’s leg for poetic justice purposes. Now the film has two different endings, one where after fending off the creatures that are tailing her, she makes it to sunlight, and escapes. The other, is the same, only she wakes up in the caverns as we realize it was only a dream.

Director Neil Marshall has a visceral style to his filmmaking in this one, and a proven achievement in lighting with the use of very little light at all. Not only that, but the scenes with the creatures are fast-paced and action-oriented complete with gore and brutal knockdown drag’em out fights. Though the women of course are just no match for the mole men. The suspense builds in this claustrophobic film as we know something bad is going to happen, but not sure what. When we finally are revealed the lurking menace in the caverns, much like the girls in the film, we are genuinely frightened. The interesting aspect of the film tends to want to get the main character Sarah down to a very primal and scary level of human. She in a sense is broken down to an instinct-using creature just like the ones hunting her. It makes for great contrast in the end, as most horror movies tend to make women seem helpless and yet give them power through means of innocence, or ambivalent virginity against evil, this one gets the woman right down at the same level as her predator going toe-to-toe till the end.