Friday, August 11, 2006

A Long Way Down

I’ll admit it. I imagine I’m one of about ten people who hasn’t seen Neil Marshall’s previous horror flick, “Dog Soldiers”. Based on the intense amount of composure and precision that director Marshall shows with “The Descent”, I intend to correct that oversight very soon. Simply put, “The Descent” is one of the more enjoyable times I’ve had at the movies this year- if by enjoyable you correlate tension, anxiety, and the enveloping fear that everything presented on the screen will continue to haunt and disturb for days. This is an extremely well made film that charts the voyage of six adventurous women on a cave exploring weekend. Once there, they find they’re not alone in the caves. Yet, as preposterous and cliché as this basic formula sounds, Marshall manages to avoid the pitfalls that accompany a lot of horror films. Several of the women are given dynamic backgrounds and, for more intuitive viewers, they’ll pick up on a devious little perversion that invades during the opening minutes and sustains a level of underlying questions between 2 of the women throughout the rest of the film. This is the kind of horror film I prefer… a film that allows the viewer to be immersed in the darkness, the claustrophobia and the disorientation right along with its characters. In films like “The Grudge” and “The Eye”, the energy of the scares is in the corners of the frame, constantly keeping the viewer wondering where the terror may arise from next. Marshall inventively lights over 80% of the film with the only illumination the women have on them- helmet lights, flares, fluorescent sticks and the night vision of a camcorder. There’s nothing worse than being in a movie theater and having to discern the dark images for yourself. No easy way out here. His unnerving sense of timing, as well, once the ‘things’ arrive on screen also speaks volumes about the director’s patience as a storyteller and a provocateur. And, to add depth to an already interesting little movie, I urge everyone to check out
  • this
  • . Apparently, the version playing here in the States is an abridged version from that released in the U.K, cut by the hands of director Marshall himself. I prefer the British ending more, only because I think this is the intended revelation that the film naturally builds to (especially since there are several ‘cutaway’ scenes throughout “The Descent” that are never explained in the American version.) And what’s even more interesting is the discussion that “The Descent” opens up upon watching (and interpreting) the British ending. Whether this was an artistic choice or the decision to possibly “dumb down” the American version, it’s heroic that a horror film has the chops to open itself up to so many interesting deviations.


    Blogger Chris Allen Gaubatz said...

    Great piece, Joe. I absolutely loved this film! I was going to see Dead Man's Chest, as I'm planning to see 'The Descent' when I go to Texas this week. I'm glad I went ahead and watched this, because I don't mind seeing it again in Texas. It's so nice to see something fresh come out of the horror genre!

    Ok, what are your thoughts on Sara (or Susan) taking the pick-axe to Juno's leg towards the end? I understand the tension that may have built up between the two, along with her knowledge of Juno's involvement in her best friend's death- but did this seem right to you? I can see a revenge act that was more complacent- like watching her be pulled away without making an overt attempt at helping. It's not like this is inconsistent with her character- Marshall does a great job foreshadowing this possible outcome, but I was left wondering if she really was capable of committing this act against Juno. I know trauma and fear played a major role in her decision making, but...Ok, that is about as much nit-picking as I can do with 'The Descent', because I truly loved every moment I sat in the theatre watching this! You know I loved a movie when I was so enthralled that I didn't even finish my large popcorn! I always finish my damn popcorn!

    5:27 AM  
    Blogger Chris Allen Gaubatz said...

    After we went and saw this again, I see Sarah (or susan) taking the pick-axe to Juno's leg as not only believable, but essential. I saw a lot more of the subtle implications of this film on the second viewing.

    10:34 AM  

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