STARRING: Nora-Jane Noon, Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia

2006, 99 Minutes, Directed by: Neil Marshall

Description: In a remote mountain range, six girlfriends meet for their yearly adventure, a caving trip into the arteries of the earth. The group makes their way through the remote cave system, enjoying the hazardous but beautiful surroundings. Then, deep inside the cave, disaster strikes when their route back to the surface is blocked by a rockfall. When they learn that Juno, always pushing herself that little bit further, has brought them to an unexplored cave, and that no one is coming to rescue them, the group starts to splinter. Left with no other option, they push on through the cave, praying for another exit. The women battle through this harsh underground world, pitting their strength and determination against each new challenge. Unbeknownst to them, there is something else lurking under the earth, a race of monstrous creatures hidden from the light, evolved to live perfectly in the dark. As the friends realize they have become prey, they are forced to unleash their most primal instincts to face the creatures. As old wounds break open and loyalties disintegrate, the women realize the horrible truth-they have most to fear from one another.

It isn’t necessarily the story you tell, but how you tell it. This is particularly true of The Descent. Sure, this British horror movie borrows the old Alien plot template of a group of people cut off from civilisation being killed off one by one by one by hostile creatures, but it manages to do something wholly gripping and unexpected with the material at hand. 

"I rather resented the way in which it managed to scare the heebie-jeebies out of me . . ."

A group of 4X4 driving alpha females go spelunking in an unknown cave in the Appalachian wilderness, miles from any civilisation. (They spend the evening before in a wooden hut that is almost an exact replica of the one featured in the Evil Dead movies. If any of them had watched any horror movies, they would have run like hell!)  

Soon a tremor cuts off their escape route and they have to find a new one: no-one knows they’re there so there won’t be any rescue attempts. However, their plight turns desperate when it turns out that the caves are home to a group of vicious mutated cannibals who start hunting them for food. The mutants are perfectly adapted to the dark underground world of the caves, giving them a distinct advantage. However the odds are a bit evened by the fact that the mutants are blind and have to find their way by hearing and touch alone. Soon the group of friends are fighting for their lives and find they have to resort to their basest and cruellest instincts if they are to survive.

So far, so very The Cave. But rather think The Hills Have Eyes. Whereas The Cave was a rather uninvolving and murky movie which was difficult to follow (everybody looked the same in their diving gear), The Descent makes a point of clearly delineating its characters so that we almost always follow what is happening and to whom it is happening. Also, director Neil Marshall (of Dog Soldiers fame) knows his stuff: a few too many sudden jump moments aside, The Descent manages to pack in some unexpected scares. The movie pulls no punches in scaring audiences and to be honest, I rather resented the way in which it managed to scare the heebie-jeebies out of me. This is thrilling, yet gruesome stuff that always manages to veer off into unexpected directions.

Of course it is always difficult to recommend horror movies because not everyone can stomach the gore involved in such stories, but I cannot help but recommend The Descent for horror/action fans with stronger constitutions. It is simply the scariest movie we have seen in quite a while . . .


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