Directed by Neil Marshall
Produced by Christian Colson
Written by Neil Marshall
Director of Photograpy Sam McCurdy
Music by David Julyan
Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone, Myanna Buring
20056/99 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/UK/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Lionsgate DVD
Years ago, the Ford Motor Company created a new slogan, "Quality is Job 1". While this may sound somewhat cheesy, it's a great credo to live by and I sincerely wish that everyone thought this way. Especially filmmakers. Today, it seems that the movies coming out of Hollywood focus more on quantity than quality. Rather it be wall-to-wall action or a cast of well-known stars, the emphasis seems to be on bigger rather than better. There's nothing wrong with focus on the details and simply trying to make a good movie. And that's exactly what Neil Marshall did with THE DESCENT, a modern horror masterpiece.
THE DESCENT tells the story of six women, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza), Beth (Alex Reid), Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), Sam (MyAnna Buring), and Holly (Nora-Jane Noone), who unite for a vacation retreat in order to go caving. The women are all British (with the exception of Juno), but they've decided to meet in a remote section of the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina. Sarah is still recovering from the tragic deaths of her husband and daughter a year ago. Juno, an adrenaline junkie, has planned the cave exploration and has a little surprise in store for her friends. After a night of partying and catching up, the women set out for the cave. They enter the crevice (which goes straight down) and are fascinated by its beauty. However, they soon become concerned by the incredibly small and tight shafts. Following a rockslide which blocks the way they came in, Juno admits that they aren't in the main, well-traveled series of caves, but a new cave which has never been mapped. The women begin to explore the caves, having no luck in finding a way out and suffering some injuries. However, the harrowing experience actually gets worse when the group realizes that they aren't alone in the caves.
THE DESCENT is one of those movies that qualifies for my TERMINATOR 2 citation. This goes to movies which would have been ever better if one had gone in having no idea what they were about. For the first 56 minutes, the movie appears to be a drama about a group of women who are attempting to survive an ordeal inside of an uncharted cave. And that part of the film is extremely intense, as we watch the women deal with panic, distrust, and pain. If the movie has simply dealt with the group's survival quest, it would have still been a good movie but, after they realize that there are other beings in the cave, the movie shifts into overdrive and becomes one of the most scary and exhausting films in years. Writer/director Neil Marshall takes his time in building not only the suspense, but the viewers relationship with the women. From the opening scenes through to the scenes where they first explore the caves, we get to know these women and see them as more than just stereotypical characters.
And that attention to purposeful pacing is only one of the key factors that make THE DESCENT such a good film. Let's face it, we've seen this film before...actually we've seen it twice this past year with the release of THE CAVE and THE CAVERN. Except for a few details here and there, and the decision to have an all-female cast, on the surface there isn't much to separate THE DESCENT from the other "lost in a cave" films. A closer look at the film reveals that Marshall used this canvas to his advantage and was able to hone in on the more minute details of the story and action to create a very scary film. Again, Marshall cranks up the tension throughout the first hour by introducing one obstacle after another and putting his actors in smaller and smaller spaces. Thus, when things get even worse in the last 43 minutes of the movie, it appears that things can't get worse for the women, but they do. The violence presented in the last third of the film is devastating, not necessarily because of the gore involved (although the film is quite bloody), but because the situation makes the deaths seem very real and very unpleasant. This effect is increased by the fact that the women don't simply lie down or give up during the finale and the ferocity presented by these characters which we've grown to know takes the movie to a higher level. When these ideas are combined with some fabulously framed shots (Marshall manages to have the others creep into frame with amazing skill), the movie reveals itself to be a horror-lovers dream.
Typically when a film comes along riding a wave of hype, I'm disappointed by it. This wasn't the case with THE DESCENT. Despite the fact that the subject matter is familiar and writer/director Neil Marshall is tipping his hat like crazy to all of his favorite horror films, the movie works. The movie could have simply been a good Hitchcockian suspense thriller, but it morphs into an unrelenting shock-fest. Simply put, THE DESCENT is one of the best horror films that I've seen in years.
THE DESCENT dives deep into DVD courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has come to DVD in several different versions and for the purposes of this review, the Unrated Widescreen version was screened. (The unrated version apparently runs one minute longer than the R-rated cut.) The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks quite good, as the picture is very sharp and clear. The picture shows no signs of overt grain and there are no defects from the source material. The biggest potential for problems with this transfer is the fact that most of the movie takes place in darkness, but the image is never overly dark and the action is visible. There is some mild shimmering at times, but otherwise things look fine. The DVD features an Earth-rattling Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio track which features clear dialogue and sound effects. (Although it won't help those who have difficulty with British accents.) The stereo effects are excellent, as are the surround sound and bass effects. The sound design and this audio presentation really add to the effect of the film.
The DVD contains a nice assortment of extras. For starters, the unrated DVD contains the Director's Cut, featuring the longer ending which wasn't seen in U.S. theaters. The first AUDIO COMMENTARY features writer/director Neil Marshall, editor Jon Harris, assistant editor Tina (?!), producer Christian Colson, and production designer Simon Bowles. This is a somewhat subdued talk as the group discusses the technical aspects of the movie. They do share some interesting facts about the filmmaking process, but they get distracted by the story at times. The second COMMENTARY has Marhsall joined by actors Nora-Jane Noone, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Shauna Macdonald, and Alex Reid. This is a fun commentary as the group reminisce about the shoot and laugh over their experiences. They also talk about the challenges of shooting in the cave sets. "THE DESCENT: Beneath the Scenes" (41 minutes) is a very in-depth making of featurette with many comments from cast & crew, as well as an abundance of behind-the-scenes footage. It examines the cast, characters, the makeup FX. The most impressive part of the on-set footage are the cave sets which look so real in the film. "DescENDING" (7 minutes) is an interview with Marshall where he discusses the different endings featured in the international and U.S. versions. The DVD contains 9 DELETED & EXTENDED SCENES which run about 10 minutes. They are very minor moments. The extras are rounded out by OUTTAKES (5 minutes), STORYBOARDS, a STILL GALLERY, and Cast & Crew Bios.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2007. ©
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