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.

Gotham: Sean Pertwee on the Small Screen and Not Dying?

Gotham: Sean Pertwee on the Small Screen and Not Dying?

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the premiere of FOX’s Gotham tonight is not the story of a “baby” Batman’s beginnings, along with a slew of Gotham City baddies and their origins but the inclusion of Brit actor Sean Pertwee on the small screen and not dying. Not dying? How can that be? The 50 year-old actor has made a career of starring in horror films and having his characters slain in some pretty gruesome and imaginative ways.

Dog Soldiers (2002) Once Bitten…

Written and directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday, Centurion) Dog Soldiers was Marshall’s first feature length film. It has an impressive cast – Sean PertweeKevin McKiddEmma Cleasby and  Liam Cunningham. The film takes place in Scotland and at the beginning of the film we see a man and woman camping in the Highlands. As they are relaxing in their tent, the woman gives the man (played by Marshall regular Craig Conway) a silver letter opener. Soon after the couple are attacked and we presume killed.

The film then moves on to a chase. One man Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd)  is being chased by a group of soldiers. He is soon caught and taken to the ground. The man leading the chase is Captain Ryan (Liam Cunnigham). After Cooper’s capture, Ryan explains that a dog gave Cooper away. This whole event has been Pvt Cooper’s entrance exam for joining the Special Forces.  Captain Ryan tells Cooper that he has done well and that if he wants  to be in the Special Forces he has to be ruthless. Ryan then orders Cooper to shoot the dog that gave him away. Cooper refuses and Ryan shoots the dog himself and returns Cooper to his Regular unit.

Four weeks later Cooper is out on a night-time exercise in the Scottish Highlands. He is part of a six-man squad lead by Sergeant Harry G. Wells (Sean Pertwee). Their mission is to meet up with and train against a squad of Special Forces Soldiers (SAS). When  Cooper and the squad find the  SAS camp, it has been destroyed and  all the occupants killed, except for Coopers “old friend” Captain Ryan. Ryan has been injured.

The squad then take Ryan and head for help. While they are moving out, several shapes in the area are moving around the squad. The shapes start attacking and in the rush, one of the squad is impaled on a tree branch and Sergeant Wells is injured. Cooper fights off Wells’ attacker and the remainder of the squad retreat.

They then bump into a woman in a Land Rover – Megan (Emma Cleasby) who drives them to a farmhouse. Once inside Megan explains that the things that attacked the soldiers were werewolves. Ryan confirms this, when he finally tells the group that the SAS had been sent there to capture one for research. The group then barricade themselves in the farmhouse and prepare to defend themselves until daylight.

This film contains a couple of  ‘firsts‘ not least of which is the fact that Sean Pertwee actually makes it to the end of the film. Pertwee is almost always cast as characters who expire dramatically in the first or second reel of a film. He has been: eaten alive, blown up, decapitated, et al. He is the English version of Michael Ironside. This is also the first film to feature, to the best of my knowledge, werewolves and soldiers as adversaries.

Marshall moves this film along at a great pace. He has also  made an almost perfect blend of the  thriller and horror genres. The casting was spot on. As the audience we love Cooper, hate Ryan, and feel for Wells. All the actors in fact do their roles justice. Emma Cleasby as Megan is at turns, appealing, wistful, attractive and finally scary.

Watching this film you can see why Marshall is a member of the unofficial “Splat Pack,” a term coined by film historian Alan Jones in Total Film magazine for the modern wave of directors making brutally violent horror films. The film is brutal and it is violent, but it also has it’s fair share of irony and humour. This was Marshall’s first time at bat and he knocked it out of the park.

It is plain to see that Marshall has a certain panache when it comes to the genre. His second film,  The Descent makes Dog Soldiers look like a walk in the park in comparison. His third film in what I like to call his “Horror Trilogy” Doomsday  shows a fine tuning of his skills as a story teller and the calibre of his cast reflects this.

I think Marshall may soon be established as the unofficial leader of the “Pack.”