Pros: Well written, well acted, well directed. Scary as heck.
Cons: Just a horror movie. No profound meaning.
The Descent (2005) Directed by Neil Marshall
"I'm an English teacher, not f*cking Tomb Raider." Beth
There are few ecosystems as sparse as a cave system, or as fascinating. This movie mimics that dynamic.
It starts with an all women's white water rafting trip. Three friends, Sarah (Shauna McDonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza), and Beth (Alex Reid) are part of a group of thrill seekers. Sarah and her family set out their own separate way, but there is something on husband Paul's (Oliver Milburn) mind, and that distraction causes a car accident that kills him and their daughter, leaving Sarah all alone.
One year later, the friends are back together, along with a new addition, Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) a very obvious adrenaline junkie (Base Diver), and old friends Rebecca (Saiska Mulder) and Sam (MyAnna Buring). They are in the Appalachians of North Carolina, and Juno has selected a Cave Crawl for them. A bit tame for Holly's tastes, but the real purpose if for the friends to reform their bonds in the wake of Sarah's tragedy. Juno has been noticeably in short supply the past year, a fact the others think odd.
The head down into the cave with full spelunking gear. Six healthy athletic women, experienced in extreme sports, sharing an adventure. The careful connoisseur of horror movies will note Juno's behavior; she has a secret, and leaves the caving book in the SUV.
It's down a sink hole and into a pipe for a rappelling adventure. This cavern is deep. But the girls are pros. Then it is through a long crawl tube to reach the next chamber. Are those seismic tremors? Why, yes, yes they are. The way out is blocked.
Now, they have to head for one of the two other entrances; and they can expect rescue in a day because of their "flight plan" they filed.
Except there is a wrinkle. This is not the class two cave they thought they were exploring. This is a new unexplored system that Juno wanted them to share, to name together. There are no maps, no guarantees, and no rescue coming.
Well, there are some angry words, but then they get on with the business of saving themselves. These women are not butch survivalists, nor hysterical ninnies, but a refreshing collection of competence. They are worried, but they cope. The conflict here is man against nature, and his (her) own limitations and it is very compelling, and frequently scary.
But as they move deeper, following the air currents, Sarah begins to suspect they are not alone. Holly who is prone to leap before she looks takes a tumble and suddenly their situation is much worse; they are now five women and an injured party, trying to navigate an unexplored cavern system.
Alas, that is not the worst of it. Sarah is right, and she sees a figure, Gollum-like, getting a drink from a pool. These creatures are real, carnivorous, and ambush predators. And Holly is easy pickings. Now five women must fight their way through an unexplored cavern looking for an exit while the albino blind bat people try to eat them.
Alone, in the dark, with an unknown predator hunting you on its home territory, knowing there is no help coming, and you don't know the way out....yeah, this movie manages to deliver the thrills and chills.
Nor is it just a creature feature. With in that cave system, those bat people are not the only dangerous creatures, and these women are pushed to the breaking point, and beyond, and we get to see the darkness with in them, we learn how far into their own bloody evolutionary past they can descend.
The women are excellent performers; their characters are competent, and compelling, but no more detailed than required by the plot. They are drawn with the same sparseness that works through the whole piece.
The caves are interesting, set the tone, and provide the structure the action must take. A Lean-N-Mean creature feature.
This review, like the movie, is Lean-N-Mean at 666 words exactly.