The Descent unleashes claustrophobic psychological dread and monstrous terror.
The Descent is a psychological supernatural creature feature horror that is immersed in a claustrophobic atmosphere. With psychological suspense and tension, thriller elements and a lot of gore, this film provides a unique experience with six strong women as the lead characters. Its premiss is simple, but very effective, focusing on the six women who fight for their survival and the underlying feelings that come out to play in a maze-like cave system, while also being attacked by some very real underground monsters. It’s a film that has a great twist and it’s best to go in without knowing too much about it. This review contains minor spoilers that don’t give away the important plot elements.
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The film starts when five friends, Sarah, Juno, Beth, Becca and Sam are rafting on a river. But when they are driving home, Sarah’s husband Paul seems distracted causing a car accident, killing him and their daughter, while Sarah survives.
A year later the five friends reunite to explore a cave system. It’s the very first time Sarah goes on a new adventure with them and this time a new girl Holly joins the group. Everything seems to go well, until they realize they are in the wrong caves that aren’t yet mapped out and soon they are lost, desperately trying to find a way out. While old traumas surface and the tension between them rises, bringing new light to the accident a year ago, there’s something lurking in the dark. For the caves are not empty. Ancient creatures inhabit the caves and are hunting them down.
Why you should watch it
The Descent is an outstanding film in many ways. First of all it’s a film with only strong women. They are adventurous, brave, determined but also vulnerable and they bring a fresh dynamic to an adventure horror that normally has strong men as the leads. But this is only a part of the excellence of the film.
Because the underlying trauma of Sarah, who hasn’t coped with her loss, surfaces even more within a closed environment. She is very unstable and actually not quite up to explore a cave and certainly not when they find out they are lost and closed in with no way back. In a way the cave serves as a metaphor for Sarah’s feelings that are locked up deep inside of her. She is both lost mentally and now in a very real way. She was already isolated from the world, after losing her whole world and now the world is literally gone for her. This is cause for a very tensed panic attack and due to her determination and willpower and with the help of her friends she starts to overcome her loss and trauma, finding her way out of her mental enclosed cave and the real caves.
But there’s another psychological aspect to the film that is an important plot. It has to do with betrayal, revenge, trying to make up with past mistakes in a very disturbing way and finally dealing with a ground-shaking revelation. This twist really levels up the film in a great psychological way.
And finally the monsters also play a big part in this claustrophobic fight for survival. Sarah has to overcome and fight her trauma, but also betrayal and now also these creatures. They bring in the real physical horror. When they first realize they are lost and have to find a new way out, the tension is already high. But when the monsters come in, first very subtle to attack them later, resulting in some graphic gory kills is the cherry on the pie of this film. It all comes together in a great way. The psychological horror, the claustrophobic suspense, the symbolism and finally the creature feature that form together a well-crafted horror that intwines each element to create something special.
The cinematography is awesome. The handy-cams and night-visions enhance the horror and suspense and the battle in the pool of blood and gore is epic. Showing Sarah reborn covered in blood. But also Sarah’s hallucinations and visions add to a surreal vibe that give her character more body. The horror is shown from different angles. The horror comes from humans and monsters, but also the cave itself is an enemy that swallows them whole if they are not careful.
My favorite part
I absolutely loved every aspect of the movie. It was so well thought out and crafted a suspenseful tale that was clever and gave us scary monsters as well. But the best part was the final epic battle and the shot of Sarah crawling her way out. I can’t say much more without spoiling it, but it was an impressive ending that reckoned with trauma and more. This is a film with depth, literally and figuratively.
Epic factor: ★★★★★
Gore factor: ★★★★☆
Thrill factor: ★★★★★
Gruesome factor: ★★★★☆
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Entertainment factor: ★★★★★
Cast and crew
The Descent is directed and written by Neil Marshall. It stars Shauna MacDonald (Sarah), Natalie Medonza (Juno), Alex Reid (Beth), Saskia Mulder (Rebecca), MyAnna Buring (Sam) and Nora-Jane Noone (Holly).
Duration: 100 minutes. Music: David Julyan. Cinematography: Sam McCurdy. Edited by: Jon Harris. Produced by: Christian Colson. Production company: Celador Films, Northmen Productions. Distributed by: Pathé Distribution, Lions Gate Films.