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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Descent

A superior horror film

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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August 9, 2006 -- “The Descent” is one of the best, scariest horror films I've seen in years, which is to say it rates about a B. Horror films, after all, are among the worst genre films extant. It does not take much effort to rise above the likes of “Final Destination,” “Van Helsing,” “Urban Legend” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Most of these films consist of nothing more than a series of gruesome murders. These movies tend to get made on the cheap, but they usually make a profit for the Hollywood studios because they have a devoted following, as do gross teen sex comedies.

“The Descent” shows a lot more imagination than most of these films, and its themes are distinctly adult. There is also some surprisingly subtle performances by the capable, if mostly unknown cast. Most horror films are aimed at the teen audience and feature young, or at least immature characters. This film is also unusual in that all of the main characters are adult women. They act more like men than women, but they are still women. That is rare in horror films, where the target audience is mostly male. The women in this film are not sex symbols, either. They are tough, sweaty, dirty and they are deadly. They kill whatever gets in their way, even each other. The story is mainly one of survival.

A group of women get together once a year for an adventure. This year's adventure is to explore a remote cave. All of the women are experienced climbers and all have plenty of spelunking gear. One of the women, Sarah (played by Shauna Macdonald), has just recovered from injuries suffered in a tragic car accident in which her husband and daughter were killed. The exact circumstances of the accident are clouded with an emotion that is exploited nicely by director Neil Marshall (“Dog Soldiers”). Through veiled glances we get the idea that there is a dark undercurrent of guilt and anger within this seemingly carefree group of successful women. These feelings erupt into violence later in the film. That is the adult aspect of the story, missing from most horror films. The story also includes a horror film cliché that certain sexual sins are punishable by death.

After the group manages to squeeze through a tight passage into a large chamber, a landslide blocks off their escape route. They must find another way out. Then it is discovered that deadly human-like creatures are living in the cave and are attacking the spelunkers, killing them one by one. Members of the scattered group try to fight their way out of the cave. Fierce battles erupt between the group and the cave-dwelling monsters. A nice parallel is drawn between the mothering instinct of a female monster and Sarah, who seeks to avenge her slain family. There is no question that this film advances the notion that the female is the deadliest of either species.

The problem with the film is that like most horror films, there is a surplus of action and a deficit of character development. We get to know Sarah a little bit, and we get to know Juno, the leader of the expedition (played by Natalie Jackson Mendoza of of “Moulin Rouge!”). Despite some good performances, there is very little depth to either of these characters, and practically none for the rest of the women in the group, including Beth (Alex Reid of “The Honeymooners”), Rebecca (Saskia Mulder of “The Beach”), Sam (MyAnna Buring of “The Omen”) and Holly, (Nora-Jane Noone of “The Magdalene Sisters”).

This is a horror film that is pretty much by the book, with a few wrinkles. It is no masterpiece, but it is very well crafted, with some effective “gotcha” moments. There is a lot of blood and gore, of course, but that is to be expected in this genre. This film ranks up there with some of the best films of this genre in recent years, such as “Identity” and “Scream.” It falls short of the best films of the genre, such as “The Others,” “The Exorcist,” “The Sixth Sense,” “Silence of the Lambs” and “Jaws.” For all of its craftsmanship, however, this film doesn't seriously try to rise above the self-imposed limits of the genre it willingly inhabits. It is primarily a gore fest and most of its characters are just standard horror film victims waiting to be murdered. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2006 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)