Neil Marshall is the shizzle. He’s already proven himself with Dog Soldiers – the ONLY good werewolf movie from start to finish – demonstrating how low budget is no impediment to fun, fast and vicious action movies. With The Descent he has crafted a much simpler, more focussed film that further suggests he’s quite easily TNBT, if only distributors would release films on time.
The Descent was released in its native UK in July 2005, and screened at Sundance, January 2006. It was due in Australia in February this year, but as this review ‘goes to print’ the film has now been put back to sometime in September. In a word: pathetic. I don’t profess to understand anything about the process of distributing films, but having to wait fourteen months for a movie to reach our shores is beyond comprehension. It’s possible they were hoping to distance the movie from the similarly themed The Cave, but no one actually saw that film here anyways, so they haven’t got a leg to stand on.
Sick of waiting, I eventually gave in and purchased the DVD from the UK, and I’m glad I did. The Descent kicks arse. It’s significantly flashier than its predecessor (no crappy ‘it’s a full moon’ lighting cheats here), and the camera is wielded smoothly and confidently, but the rawness is still there. Marshall wields suspense and release expertly – we know something’s gonna happen… but we’re still shocked when it does.
The main portion of The Descent features an entirely female cast, which is much stranger than it sounds, especially for the genre. Sure, females have been the heroes in horror films since the days of Halloween or Alien, but they’ve usually shared the duties with the men, or merely been added to provide variety in a male-dominated film. Here we have six women in a cave – and of course something deadly and malicious. The setting is, of course, perfect for such a film, and one scene in particular was perfectly claustrophobic, reminding me of when I first read the caving chapters in Thor Heyerdahl’s ‘Aku Aku’.
The action is stunning; never flashy but bold and brutal in its simplicity. And THE VICTIMS FIGHT BACK! It’s fantastic! How many times have we been forced to sit and watch stupid heroines consistently run when all you want them to do is turn around and at least try to sock their attacker in the face?
For all my jumping up and down with glee, The Descent isn’t perfect however. The script isn’t as strong as Dog Soldiers, which had apparently been honed over almost a decade as they struggled to get the film made. There are a couple of lines that are a little clichéd, which is disappointing. The other major flaw was that I didn’t actually get to know all six of the women. I could relate to the main three, but the others were a bit of a mystery. I only recognised them as ‘those two brunettes’ and ‘the other blonde’. Their characters weren’t fleshed out at all in comparison to more significant performers.
At first I was a little underwhelmed, but soon warmed to the narrower focus of The Descent. This film is a much more mature effort from Marshall, which relies on subtlety, allusion and narrative depth in a way that his first film never did.Rating: