A great idea that was executed quite capably by all involved.
Maybe this film was a little too ambiguous?
The Descent is a bunch of different movies all rolled into one. Part science fiction, part horror, part chick flick, part ambiguous lesbian thriller, this movie works because we aren't given the time to try and decipher rhyme or reason.
Sarah lost her family in a horrible car crash and she comes to the U.S. to go on a "spelunking" trip with Beth, Juno and a few other other new friends. After establishing this group as highly adventurous, they begin to descend down into a cave that they think has already been excavated. After Sarah has a panic attack (and portions of the cave seem to cave in), Juno admits that this isn't the cave the girls think it is, because she had wanted to surprise them with discovering it for themselves.
Suddenly, this film becomes one of the girls just trying to get out of this cave safely. The story lulls you in in such a way, that the viewer becomes almost startled as the women are attacked by some blind, highly agile, beast dwelling beings. Amidst all this, there is a subplot that Juno may have had an affair with Sarah's husband. All of this plays itself out with Sarah and Juno besting the beasts, having a final confrontation between each other, and then the movie ends on a highly ambiguous note.
Overall, Neil Marshall has crafted a movie that is as entertaining as it is eery.
Audio Commentary Tracks
There are two commentary tracks on this DVD. One is with the director and the crew and the other is with the director and the cast. While I am not a fan of group commentary tracks, I do understand why they are done, and since this movie is essentially an ensemble film, I decided to listen to the latter track. The participants sit back and have a good time talking about the story of the film, how the actresses got involved (what they thought of their roles), and what it was like making a movie like this. They talk about working in very close quarters, the kinds of beasts that inhabit this film, and the various subplots layered into this. I was impressed with how respectful everyone was of everyone else, and most of all, I was surprised by just how enlightening this commentary was.
Descending: Interview with Director Neil Marshall?
The Descent: Beneath the Scenes
In this segment of the supplemental features, we are given a behind the scenes look at how this movie was made. I am not sure how much of this you need to watch if you have listened to one or both of the commentary tracks (that's a big reason why I didn't review the Interview with Director Neil Marshall), because sadly this track basically played like more of the same. We find out how the story came together, what the goal of the production was, the effects, and how the look of the creatures was created. Nothing too amazing here, but certainly worth a look for fans and people that like creature featurettes.
Deleted and Extended Scenes, Storyboard and Scene Comparisons and Outtakes
I grouped all of these together because they deal with individual scenes. While I found most of them to be enjoyable, it is easy to see why they were excised. Had some of the deleted or extended scenes been in this film, they may have given too much information or weighted down certain moments that needed to play smoother. The Storyboard and Scene Comparisons were interesting, even though I sometimes find these sorts of things to be redundant. You see what's drawn on the page, then you see it on screen, and if it's too similar than it seems superfluous. The Outtakes were simply shots of messed up moments involving the cast or others. When one considers the subject matter of this film, these moments were a welcome release from the tension.
Widescreen. This movie was very darkly shot but Neil Marshall plays things pretty straight both with the images and the editing. I never felt like he was beating us over the head with any points, or going for some arty look where it wasn't necessary. This film plays on many fears that viewers already bring to the table. Fear of the dark, fear of being lost, fear of being attacked, etc.. Because it works in this way, the look of the film simply enhances those fears so just when we think things can't get any worse, that whole facade comes crashing down around us.
Dolby Digital. The audio on this film was rich and big if not somewhat borrowed by similar films like Predator. As this movie mainly takes place in a cave, the sound department seemed like it seized the opportunity to really get inside the character's heads. There are sounds like water slowly dripping, the characters breathing, the creepy noises the monsters make, and that all serves to make an already tight situation that much more tighter. Having seen this on a high quality TV and sound system, I feel this release is cinematic in the best way in regards to a home viewing experience.
A woman, screaming as she bursts out of a pool of blood in a tight tank top is the front cover image employed here. The back portion of this disc shows us some shots from the film, it offers a description, a Special Features list, a cast list, and some technical specs. Even though it may not seem like it, there is something about this packaging that makes it stand apart from similar, horror themed fare. Nothing too special but it's special nonetheless.
A big reason why about 90% of this film worked for me is because Neil Marshall created a situation where this movie was actually many different things. It starts off and it seems like a bunch of gal pals headed to a horrible nightmare. As it continues, it becomes a tale about survival in horrible situation. Then, it becomes a horror movie and then even a whodunit of sorts, as it appears Juno seems to be desperate to keep her secret (if she indeed has one) from the rest of the group. There is a lot of blood in this film and I think the best way to describe the look of the cave dwellers is inspired. While in some ways, I think that The Descent plays as a typical horror movie, and even is a tad too foreboding at times, ultimately what really helps it is the fact that we are able to get into the story of these characters.
Being lost anywhere brings it's own kind of tension, being lost in a cave (and a cave that nobody knows you're in no less) is a whole other world of fear that director Neil Marshall very capably explores in this film.
The Descent was released July 8, 2005.