The Decent (2005): Still a Tight Fit

The Descent (2005): Still a Tight Fit

The Descent, written and directed by the brilliant Neil Marshall, was a revelation in 2005. It is begins with a shock to the system, or two, and rapidly turns into an exercise in claustrophobia. Watching it again tonight on DVD, I found it to still be a tight fit. One that manages to leave me feeling a tad panicky and breathless, despite having watched it numerous times over the years.

My daughter and I watched it initially and both of us were blown away by the mood and the many changes that Marshall manages to manufacture in the film. In terms of unique and “outside the box” horror, this talented maestro knocks it out of the metaphorical park. (The original viewing of this horror film was back in approximately 2007.)

(I will admit to being an unabashed fanboy of Marshall. This is, after all, the same man who brought us the wonderfully weird and and delightful Dog Soldiers, as well as my “go-to” sci-fi/thriller fix, Doomsday.)

Back to The Descent:  The ladies are an interesting bunch with Juno; (Natalie Mendoza) the one who seems to be guaranteed to be the “final girl,” Sarah; (Shauna Macdonald) whose mind is a myriad of mixed emotions and Beth; (Alex Reid) the observer who sets a certain chain of events in motion, heading up this ensemble effort. The dynamic between these three and its messy interlude, runs alongside the main plot, after it makes its appearance, and shows the true depth of this movie’s story.

Marshall allows us an “out,” if you will, early on in the film. The MyAnna Buring character talks of the dangers of Spelunking.  She mentions hallucinations, dehydration, and disorientation as just a few of the long list of problems that exploring deep under the earth can cause.  By the film’s end, it is all too easy to contemplate a scenario where Sarah has dreamed the whole thing up.

Juno’s affair with Sarah’s late husband, the blind and cannibalistic cave creatures, and the end battle between Juno and Sarah could all be a construct of a woman who still needs medication after the horrific death of her husband and child. Medication that she forgets to bring into the cave with her. Sarah does, after all, get stuck in that narrow and somewhat heart stopping passage between caves. Is it such a stretch to imagine that the poor woman remained trapped there and had an intense Bardo moment?

It is interesting to note that the entire film leaves one with a tight feeling in the chest, a certain breathlessness and a slight sense of panic. After that first “jump scare” (I still cannot follow a vehicle with a load of copper, or any type of, pipes in the back without an uneasy feeling that borders on paranoia.) to the final shot of Sarah’s apparent demise, the ride is incredibly tortuous and stressful. I am not, as a rule, claustrophobic. But Marshall’s offering, from start to finish, certainly puts me in that place.

Despite being over 15 years old, The Descent still manages to entertain and put the audience in a very uncomfortable place. It is available to watch, for free, on IMDB TV. If you have not had the opportunity to watch this, or for that matter, the other aforementioned Marshall films, I would highly recommend checking it/them out.

Bloodworkz aka Bloodwork (2012): The Things We Do For Money

Travis Van Winkle and Tricia Helfer in Bloodworkz
Bloodworkz, aka Bloodwork, is a 2012 horror film that could almost be seen as a cautionary tale. A look at the things we do for money; for instance taking part in drug trials for big pharmaceutical companies. Directed by Eric Wostenberg, his second time in the chair; the first being the 2005 film Sacrifice which he wrote as well, the film looks at the dire consequences of taking drug tests too far.

Starring Travis Van Winkle (Transformers, Friday the 13th), Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica, Tiberium Wars), John Bregar (Kick-Ass 2, Servitude) and Joe Pingue (Drive, Pacific Rim) Bloodworkz follow a mixed group who participate in the trials of a new drug meant to deal with allergies, instead the corporation is testing a regenerative vaccine with deadly side effects. Eric Roberts is used in a tiny cameo as a bit of typecasting, he is the organization’s “cleaner.”

Two college students decide to take part, for a fee of $3,000. Greg (Van Winkle) and Ira (Bogaert) are typically cash strapped young men, Greg is the extrovert and Ira the more sensible of the two. Once the trials begin Greg zooms in on the woman running the trials Dr. Wilcox (Helfer). Another trial member, Englishman Nigel Denton (Rik Young) shows the two men around and explains about placebos. Something that will Greg will personally know about later on.

The film moves steadily towards its climax. The participants are each affected by the serum, or vaccine the same way; loss of inhibitions, a lowering of resistance to eating grotesque items and an increased resilience to injuries. As easily imagined, this ends badly for all involved and the film could be classed as a disturbing horror film. People eating rotting animals and, finally, other people as they overdose on the drug.

This US/Canadian film is not too dissimilar to the 2012 UK horror film The Facility. Like Bloodworkz/Phase One/Bloodwork/The Last Experiment, the British film deals with paid drug trials that go horrifically wrong. Starring Alex Reid (The Descent, Wilderness) and Aneurin Barnard (Citadel, Ironclad) and written/directed by Ian Clark (See No Evil, Ultimate Warfare) the film is comparable in terms of entertainment and it too can be seen as a cautionary tale.

It is odd that two films so alike came out in the same year. Rather interestingly, on IMDb, Bloodworkz just nudges past The Facility in ratings. The former getting a score of 5.1 and the latter a score of 4.7. It could well be down to a matter of taste, or that the American/Canadian film features more in the way of gratuitous nudity. The Ian Clark film also feel a bit like a docudrama as well as different side effects from the American film’s drug trials.

The two films both feature participants who change dramatically as a result of the trials, with the Brits all becoming psychotic homicidal monsters (literally becoming disfigured) versus becoming superhuman and disgusting eating machines. Each ends badly and preference is down to personal taste in the end although the ratings at IMDb make no real sense. There is nudity in the British film, for around a minute and it is non-sexual in nature. The US film features the obligatory bare boobs and gratuitous sex scene along with an attempted rape.

Both films are available on Hulu and fans of horror films should have a look at both of them. Each film is entertaining and of similar budgets although The Facility seems to have better FX overall. Fans of Alex Reid, one of the best character actresses in film and television, will appreciate her performance in the Brit film.

Bloodworkz does have Roberts in his two second cameo but not much else in terms of star power. As a horror/thriller film it ticks the boxes and provides an interesting story but not much in the way of character development. At the end of the day, the viewer never really gets attached to the two dimensional characters in the film.

This is a 3 out of 5 star film and pretty solid horror fare if not overly impressive in terms of plot and character empathy. Worth a look but not two.

Wilderness (2006): Who Let The Dogs Out



Cover of "Wilderness"
Cover of Wilderness

Directed by Michael J. Bassett (Deathwatch , Solomon Kane) Wilderness is only the second feature film helmed by Bassett. He has stepped up his game with this film. Made for a budget of three million, the film did not make back it’s production cost and only pulled in  just over twenty-four thousand pounds. Which is a shame, because it really is quite a good film.

Wilderness opens in a Juvenile Detention Centre aka Prison.Sean Pertwee is  prison officer  Jed, who is in charge of the young criminals. This disparate group of six lads do not get on well together. Steve (Stephen Wight) is the self proclaimed leader of the boys, his right hand man and enforcer is the hulking but simple Lewis (Luke Neal). Steve makes life miserable for Lindsey (Ben McKay) and Dave (John Travers). Steve especially likes humiliating Dave. A new arrival, Callum (Toby Kebbell) is a tough customer, who is more interested in keeping a low profile, than in challenging Steve for the position of leader.

Steve and Lewis’s campaign of hate against Dave intensifies. Dave cannot  face the abuse any more, and kills himself. Callum makes the discovery when he slips in a pool of blood and traces it back to Dave’s bed. The alarm is raised and Jed deals with the body. The prison Governor comes in to talk to the boys. He is furious that this has happened. He tells Jed to take the lads to the Island and to work them hard.

The island is uninhabited and shared with other prisons who have to book time there. There should only be one group on the island at a time.When Jed and his charges arrive on the island, they begin to set up camp. These are all city lads and they are very uncomfortable camping in the woods. Every noise serves to make the boys nervous and jumpy. They get their campsite  set up and spend their first night uneasy and restless.

In the morning Callum goes down to a river to get the camp water. On his way back he notices what looks like an animal skull stuck on a stick. After examining it he turns to go and is bashed on the head. He falls to the ground unconscious. Jed gets tired of waiting for Callum to return so he gets the lads together to search for him. They find Callum and Jed decides that he must have tripped and fallen. The inmates spend the rest of the day participating in team building activities. Returning to their camp site, they encounter another camp site. As they are supposed to have the island to them selves they decide to investigate.

While Jed is looking into a tent Louise (Alex Reid) shows up and asks Jed what he thinks he is doing. It turns out that the island has been double booked and now has juvenile delinquents from both sexes camping out.  After a short discussion, Jed and Louise decide to share the island. Jed and his six lads are to stay on the east side of the river and Louise and her two charges are to stay on the west. Once Jed and the lads return to the camp, he sends them out orienteering.

Steve and Lewis find yet another person on the supposedly unhabited island, a hermit. They begin to beat the old man up. Later Callum goes to the same place and finds the hermit with his throat ripped out. While Callum is checking to see if the man is alive, Louise’s two girls see him and go back to tell Louise. Callum goes to a stream to wash his bloody hands. Jed and Louise take Callum down and handcuff him, thinking that he has killed the hermit.

The two groups decide to band together and leave the island the next day to contact the authorities. In the morning Jethro goes to collect water for the two groups.When Jethro doesn’t come back Jed sends Blue and Lindsay down to find him. When they get there they discover that Jethro has been killed and hung from a tree. They rush back to the camp and tell everyone about Jethro.

Jed immediately starts trying to get everyone organised when he is struck in the chest with a crossbow bolt. He is shot twice more as he slumps down against a tree. While Louise and Callum try to help Jed, attack dogs are running through the woods to the camp. Callum and Louise get away but not poor Jed the dogs savage him to death.  In the mad scramble to get away from the dogs, Louise goes missing.

The remaining campers now have to keep away from the killer dogs and the mystery person who is shooting the crossbow. They must fight to stay alive and get off the island.

Wilderness boasts a splendid cast. Sean Pertwee, dying as usual in the second reel; Alex Reed, no stranger to horror films (The descent) and Toby Kebbell in a role completely different than the character he played just previously in Dead Man’s Shoes. In fact the casting for the film was brilliant. The youngsters playing the prison inmates sounded exactly how they should. They all seem to have come from London and talked in the ‘gangster’ style that juvenile delinquents favour. The cinematography is crisp and makes the most of the location. The plot is nothing spectacular, but it kept me guessing until the last minute as to who was killing everyone.

I was impressed with Bassett’s second visit to the horror genre. I would recommend this film highly, if for no other reason than to see the excellent performances from the actors. Not to mention the chance to hear what English teen criminals sound like, because they really do talk that way. I know.

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