Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Review: The Descent

Wow, a decent modern british film! Its a miracle! THE DESCENT is a very effective, if not original, girl-powered survival horror flick. It doesnt bear close analysis, but is a very entertaining theatrical cinema experience. Its closest recent companion (in style if not in content) would be HAUTE TENSION.

I havent seen director Neil Marshall's previous DOG SOLDIERS, but on the strength of this will seek it out. The cave scenes are beautifully shot, light is used very cleverly, and the sound design is fantastic. The first half of the film, which to all intents and purposes is a straight caving movie, really builds tension, and is incredibly claustraphobic. The second half, when the monsters are introduced, switches gear to standard survival horror mode, and ratchets up the "jump-scares", brutal monster attacks, and blood, to an amazing degree. There is rarely a moment to relax.

There are some notable problems: the 6 girls, while attempts are made to flesh them out and give them characterization, are very similar-looking and interchangeable. This is a problem in dark cave scenes where its difficult to make out who is doing what. Obviously they're all monster fodder anyway, but i can only remember the names of 2 of the girls, and the personalities of 2 more. i.e. 2 of the girls are completely anonymous.

Secondly, the "science" of the monsters is rather dubious: supposedly blind undergound dwellers who use ultrasound to locate their victims, they cannot hear somebody say "They're blind" directly behind them but can hear an alarm clock, they apparently cannot hear loud footfalls, apparently cannot even smell, and in fact are killed very easily, and yet we are expected to believe they have survived by going to the surface and hunting animals. Highly unlikely, but its a horror film so its excused.

Finally the motivations of the "final girl" are somewhat unclear: her actions at the end of the film seem unjustified and unfair, its difficult to understand why Marshall chose to present her as the (morally justified) "hero", I certainly had more sympathy for the "villain" of the piece.

But despite this, overall its an excellent film, its scary, has attractive leads, has some fun with the standard genre stereotypes, has a fantastic beginning, and a great, downbeat ending. What more could you ask?

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