Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
I've been saying for years that horror movies are like comedies anymore, seemingly trying to push the envelope of disgusting and outrageous visuals and scenes to the breaking point. This constant push for sensationalism has made films like Hostel, frankly, hilarious: I'm unsure anyone could take serious a film that has a porn-like fascination with eyes being ripped out of their sockets and the like. Neil Marshall's 2005 British horror film The Descent comes off as being a step above the usual torture porn horror film, but it still is derivative, and a let down after a killer first half.
The film follows a group of female friends as they go spelunking in remote Appalachia. Too bad the leader of the expedition sends them into an unknown cavern that they might not be able to get out of, and that they might not be alone in the darkness. Marshall's film starts out quite well: the acting and characters are passable in this type of film, and scenes of the women edging through slight openings in between rock walls in the cave are relentlessly claustrophobic and nerve-wracking. The first 45 minutes or so of this film are pretty incredible, which makes the film's own descent into formulaic horror movie in the second half all the more disappointing.
Turns out the cave is home to a race of subterranean cannibal cave people or something like that; the creatures are never really explained and, for most intents and purposes any sense of pacing or buildup is tossed out the window once they appear. For a film that magnificently played out a tense scenario up to that point, that we suddenly find ourselves in another listless survival horror movie is unfortunate. While the use of darkness worked to the films advantage in the first half, building a sense of danger and mystery as the women worked through the cave, in the second half, the prevalent darkness - and the jarring and obnoxious editing - make for more confusion than scares, and the thrills that are present in the film are the usual *jump* scares rather than genuinely scary moments. The Descent is painfully cliche at its heart, with awkward 70's style jump cuts every time there's a gore shot.
Director Neil Marshall clearly has talent as a film maker, cleverly building suspense and tension throughout the first half of this film, but when it really comes down to it, his film cops out and becomes yet another horror effort that’s strictly par for the course. With an editing style that seems to assume that frequent and seemingly out-of-place cuts will scare its audience, and a reliance on the tried, true, and tired habit of throwing in plenty of jump scares, The Descent is an improvement over the usual genre effort, but despite a thrilling first half, ultimately succumbs to formula and cliché. I’d say its worth a look, but it’s hardly the “genre-saving” film it’s been described as.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age