The Movie Binge

Review: The Descent

You can chill Sarah, it's over. Please, chill. Please?

As a horror aficionado, I'm quick to admit that a good scream is hard to come by. You'd think it's easy to get a kid to jump out of his seat with some jerky camera movements, loud music and a ghoulish beast, but there has to be some tension built up or no one's gonna budge. I experienced this with The Omen at the beginning of the summer. People jumped the first couple times (if you're coming to a horror film you probably want to jump) but they got tired of it eventually and just let it wash over them.

In the case of The Descent, there was a ton of promise. In fact, the first 75% of the film was incredibly suspenseful, but a lot of that was wasted on a gross-out fest and out-of-character reactions in the closing minutes. In hindsight, going bonkers is probably the more realistic response to bat-like humans who eat anything that moves, but it made for a disappointing close to an otherwise fantastic film.

Not to be mistaken for The Cave, The Descent begins with a family of three and a couple of friends on a rafting trip. The family hops in the SUV to return home, but meets an unfortunate fate when they hit another car head-on. Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), the mom, loses her husband and daughter in one fell swoop. Cut to a couple years later when Sarah and her five best friends reunite to go caving in an undocumented cavern in an effort to help Sarah experience some normalcy (no, really).

The descent (and The Descent) is exciting from the get-go, as the women must eek their way through tight spaces, narrowly avoiding death on several occasions. After Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) suffers a gruesomely broken leg, the group bands together to make it through to the other side. It was around now that we start seeing signs that not all is right, unless you consider man-eating creatures right.

When these man-bats (as I shall now call them) first appear, it's exciting; director Neil Marshall shows only flashes of the beasts and you're forced to imagine the worst. Even when you can get a full view and there are several onscreen at once, it's still pretty frickin' scary (the prospect of being eaten alive fits neatly between death by extreme torture and a repeat viewing of John Tucker Must Die). Things start to fall apart when the tension is incredibly thick but a few plot lines are lacking closure. Instead of gracefully working through the issues between the friends and the mounting threat of the man-bats, shit goes bananas. Sarah becomes a cross-section of Lara Croft and Carrie, killing everything in sight. Yes, there's even the requisite covered-in-blood-now-you're-in-trouble scene.

By this point in the film (there was about twenty minutes left), the crowd seemed to lose interest. When we were supposed to be frightened, people laughed. In the end I was much more scared of Sarah than the man-bats. I guess I'm just disappointed by the disparate amount of creativity in the final act; it just didn't feel like the same movie. Maybe Marshall felt Sarah's insanity was warranted if not necessary, but the mood of the audience clearly shifted. It reminded me of those meaningless splotches of color that you stare at for a while until your eyes focus and you see a 3-D image. I could see that 3-D elephant for an hour and twenty minutes, but suddenly I lost him and saw just a jumble of colors.