Friday, October 16, 2015

The Descent (2005)(Spoiler Review)

This review contains spoilers.

The Story-
After a whitewater rafting trip, the relationship between five friends takes an unexpected turn, when Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) loses her husband, Paul (Oliver Milburn) and her young daughter, Jessica (Molly Kayll) in a gruesome car accident. Unbeknownst to Sarah, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), one of her close friends in the group, was having an affair with Paul.
One year later, Sarah is struggling to cope with Paul and Jessica's deaths, relying on medication for help, but Juno suggests an expedition to a cave system to reinvigorate Sarah. Together, Juno, Sarah, Beth (Alex Reid ), Sam (MyAnna Buring), and, Rebecca (Saskia Mulder) reunite for spelunking, with some help from Juno's new friend/protege, Holly (Nora Jane Noone).

Inside the cave system, a passage collapses behind Sarah, blocking the only known exit. But the group runs into a bigger problem, when flesh-eating creatures (or crawlers) emerge. The blind creatures use sound to hunt, and Holly's broken leg complicates the life-or-death dilemma.

Review- Patience. You'll need a lot of it for The Descent, because the movie kicks into high gear at the fifty-six minute mark, and the total runtime clocks in at 1hr. and 39 min. On paper, I know that sounds like a lengthy and tedious "twiddling your thumbs" wait, but the slow burn build is worth it, because The Descent delivers one hell of a payoff.

Director/writer Neil Marshall slowly builds the tension one step at a time. The exit collapsing behind Sarah, the confusion and anger, when Juno tells the truth about the expedition (more on that later), Sarah being the only one, who notices the crawlers tracking the group (Sarah's sightings are dismissed as hallucinations at first), Holly breaking her leg, and brief shots of the crawlers quietly waiting in the background.

It's only a matter of time before the crawlers attack. The constant teasing from Marshall really works, because you know the main characters are walking into massacre. It's one setback after another, as the story unfolds, and you can feel the impending sense of doom before the crawlers launch the first attack.

It's one close call nail-biter after another during the fight against the crawlers, and here's one of my favorite scenes:


Friendship, betrayal, loyalty, and revenge. Four very important themes in The Descent, and each theme is intensified during the ups and downs in Sarah and Juno’s relationship.

Throughout the movie, Sarah suspected something between Juno and Paul, but she wasn't 100% sure. And to add an eerie touch to the situation, you get the feeling Paul was on the verge of a confession (Paul's uncomfortable body language in the car, and the look of guilt on his face are two dead giveaways) before the fatal car crash.

Natalie Mendoza delivers a solid and believable performance, and Marshall deserves some bonus points for the way he chooses to portray Juno. Juno stays in a grey area, because you want to believe she feels remorse for the affair, but at the same time, Juno never openly apologizes to Sarah for the affair, and she never offers an explanation. Instead, Juno believes the spelunking trip will cheer Sarah up, and she plans to name the undiscovered cave system after Sarah.

But here's the big problem with Juno's goodwill mission; for starters, Juno deliberately lied about the cave system. Originally, the group agreed on a spelunking trip to a known cave system (or a "tourist trap"), but Juno decided (without asking or consulting the group) to lead the group to the unknown cave system for a real adventure. There's a scene, where Sarah and the others gang up on Juno to call her out on all the BS behind her motivations, and in certain scenes, you get the feeling Juno is a pretentious phony with a big ego.

To end the movie, Sarah and Juno are the remaining survivors, and Sarah reaches a breaking point with Juno. When the crawlers launched their first attack, Juno accidentally wounded Beth with a pickaxe to the throat (she mistook Beth for a crawler), but Juno never told the truth about the accident. After Beth's death, Sarah finally learns the truth about the affair, when a dying Beth gave Juno's "love each day" pendant (Beth ripped off the pendant, as she fell to her knees) to Sarah, and she maims Juno with a pickaxe to the leg. Sarah escapes, and a wounded Juno is left alone to fight a pack of crawlers. Long story short, “love each day” was one of Paul’s sayings, so it wasn’t hard to put two and two together, when Beth gave Sarah the pendant.

Throughout the movie, you can feel the awkward tension between Sarah and Juno, and things go south, when Juno tells the truth about the cave system. You get the feeling Sarah wanted to forgive Juno, but she completely snapped after Beth’s death. If we’re throwing  more gasoline on the fire, Sarah finally accepted the truth about the affair after Beth gave her the pendant. Also, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice timid survivor Sarah disappears in the blink of an eye after Sarah puts Beth out of her misery with a mercy killing, and a more aggressive and violent version of Sarah emerges.

Think about what Sarah did for a second. She could've easily killed Juno with no real problems, but she made the choice to cripple Juno, because she wanted her to suffer a slow and agonizing death at the hands of vicious flesh-eating creatures. That's revenge, and you can say Sarah had genuine feelings of hatred for Juno. The irony for Sarah crippling Juno? Throughout the movie, Juno flat out REFUSED to leave the cave (motivated by guilt and a second chance) without Sarah, when the remaining survivors were more than willing to escape, leaving Sarah alone in the cave with an "every man (or in the case, woman) for himself" mindset.

You can feel a grand sense of triumph and relief, when Sarah finally escapes the cave......but she didn't escape. Sarah pulls over on the side of the road to vomit, and she sees a pale Juno (covered in blood) sitting next to her. Here, it's revealed Sarah never escaped the cave. The escape was one big dream, and Sarah is still trapped in the cave. She hallucinates a celebration for her daughter's birthday (a reoccurring hallucination throughout the movie), but in reality, Sarah is kneeling on the ground, and she's staring at a torch.

To add an extra tidbit for the ending, for the US theatrical release, the movie ends with Sarah sitting next to a pale and bloodied Juno in the car, and the part with Sarah hallucinating and staring at the torch in the cave is cut out of the film. Of course, the ending is shown in its entirety on the unrated DVD/Blu-Ray releases. I’m not trying to nitpick, but I believe the movie ending with Sarah and Juno sitting in the car is the better option. It works as a mysterious cliffhanger, because you’re not 100% sure what happened. Is Sarah still alive? Did she survive? Is she inside a hospital again?

The Descent is a chaotic, tense, and claustrophobic horror film, featuring a solid cast, and believable performances. The Descent is loaded with graphic violence, blood, and gore, and Marshall creates a series of striking visuals behind the camera. The crawler's lair (or "The Killing Floor") is one that sticks out. It's a horrifying and gloomy setting, with the bones of animals and humans scattered across the ground, and you'll see one of the more memorable gross-out moments in the movie, with Sarah slowly rising to the top in a pit of blood. Also, I can’t forget about the eerie scene during the early stages of the movie, with a frightened Sarah running through a series of dark hallways at the hospital, and Sarah, screaming, covered in blood, and holding a torch, while standing inside the cave system. And the genuinely shocking swerve at the end really works, because Sarah as the sole survivor was supposed to be the big feel good moment in the movie, but they pull the rug out from underneath at the last second.

Characters and a story with real depth separates The Descent from other gory bloodbath horror films. It's a story about friendship, deception, betrayal, revenge, survival, and how far people are willing to go, when they're pushed beyond their limits.

Rating: 10/10



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