In the Descent, the plot deviates from the usual “make a wrong turn, meet an axe murderer” type of scenario. The story starts with a tragic accident where Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) loses her husband and daughter. A year later, she goes on a hiking trip with five of her friends to help with the healing process. They head off on an expedition into the depths of Appalachia, discovering later on that their fearless leader Juno (Natalie Mendoza) has deliberately left all of the maps behind so they can explore the unknown without limits.
Moving Forward with the Story
The girls eventually come across some time-worn climbing gear and some mysterious cave paintings. They hear ominous noises, indicating something lurking in the dark. Of course, that’s when things go horribly wrong, fast. Not only is the place also pitch black but also teeming with bats and wall-crawling, blood-thirsty creatures. To survive, they will need to navigate the narrow claustrophobic spaces, conquer unbelievable heights and face themselves.
Something New to Enjoy
It’s not exactly the most creative back story but it is a welcome change. Finally, we’ve got an honest to goodness, scary movie that doesn’t have to pepper the film with clichés every five seconds. The creatures are feral savages so you don’t just get the blood spatters and entrails but everything in between. It also helps that the protagonists don’t fall under the typical, damsel in distress types. For the most part, they’re strong, female leads that aren’t afraid to kick some butt. Sarah Carter is struggling to survive her personal tragedy by taking things one step at a time. The Michelle Rodriguez-esque Juno Kaplan is a headstrong, touch chick with a penchant for risk-taking while Beth O’Brien (Alex Reid) is the kind, nurturing friend. Then there’s Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) and sisters — Sam (MyAnna Buring) and Rebecca Vernet (Saskia Mulder).
The first thing the film does is to make you like these characters. The first scenes establish their bond and camaraderie while hinting at some underlying conflicts. It was hinted that, at some point in time, Juno had a relationship with Sarah’s husband. To complicate things further, Beth was caught in between as she had knowledge of it. The time allotted for character development is short but by the time the film decides to separate them and pick them off one by one, you’re already a bit invested in the leads. That’s how things should be. Having the chance to somehow identify with the protagonists certainly packs more of a punch as compared to watching some generic blonde bimbo.
Marshall successfully created this atmospheric, deliciously disturbing film. It was immersive, with a palpable sense of despair. If you cringe at the thought of tight spaces, well then you’re in for a treat. The film as a heavy dose of claustrophia-inducing scenes that are sure to make you squirm. Imagery depicting the overwhelming darkness, tight cramped spaces and hellish visions makes for a fascinating concoction. As a bonus to movie buffs, the film also draws inspiration from movies such as Carrie, Apocalypse Now and even The Blair Witch Project.
Familiar Kind of Freaky
In terms of movie monsters, the crawlers were nothing short of interesting. They started out as wide-eyed creatures and were finalized as humanoid terrors instead. To explain their appearance, they were implied to be cavemen who have never seen the light. Not only were there males, there were women and children — adding a dash of plausible realism to the film. The prosthetics were so well-designed that the exclusively female cast got a scare when they saw the actors in crawler gear for the first time. They weren’t allowed to see the final look for the creatures until it was time to film the scene when they first appear. The actresses were genuinely terrified, which made the acting just that much more believable as a result.
All in all, the Descent is a winning combination of novel ideas, thought-provoking visuals and good ol’ horror movie jump scares. The acting is believable and the homage hidden within the film’s imagery is enjoyable not only for movie buffs but art fans as well.
Our recommendation? Watch it and swear off spelunking for the rest of your life.