The Descent is Neil Marshall‘s second foray into the world of horror. Marshall once again wrote and directed the film, which is breathtaking in its execution. Where Marshall’s first film Dog Soldiers featured an almost all male cast (with the exception of Megan and the female camper who is dispatched at the beginning of the film) The Descent is an all female cast (with the exception the main character’s husband, again despatched at the beginning of the film, and some of the creatures in the cavern). It is almost as if Marshall is trying to develop this trend as a sort of trademark to his horror films.
The Descent begins with Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid) white-water rafting. At the end of the rapids are Sarah’s husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) and their daughter Jessica (Molly Kayll) who wave and cheer at the women as they near the shore. Juno stands up in the raft, arms raised and Sarah laughingly pushes Juno out of the raft into the icy water. Sarah and Beth then take the raft to shore. Sarah gets out of the raft and goes to Jessica. Beth secures the raft to a branch, while Paul helps Juno out of the water. As Beth watches Juno and Paul exchange a look, which to us the audience and to Beth, seems to show that they are more than just friends.
As Paul drives away from the river with Sarah and Jessica, he appears withdrawn and distracted. When he takes his eyes off the road to talk to Sarah, their car is hit by a mini-van driving towards them. Paul and Jessica both die in the collision. Sarah is hospitalized and goes through a break down moment. Beth is there for her friend, but Juno who has also turned up at the hospital, bursts into tears and leaves without seeing Sarah.
One year later, Beth is driving through the Appalachian mountains with Sarah. Juno has booked a caving holiday for Sarah and a group of their friends. The idea is that this will act as a sort of therapy for Sarah. The group are going to stay in a cabin near the Cavern that they will be exploring the next day. Sarah and Beth are going to meet with Juno, Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), Sam (MyAnna Buring who is turning into a Marshall regular) and Holly (Nora-Jane Noone who also appears in Marshall’s Doomsday) at the cabin.
After a night of disturbed sleep for Sarah, everyone is up bright and early to begin their descent into the caverns. Juno has a map of the caverns and Holly dismisses the whole idea of the trip as being boring since the cavern is a “tourist” cavern. The only thing missing, Holly states, are the stairs and bannisters. The girls descend into the cave and start going through it. As the group take a break for lunch Juno attempts to apologize for not visiting Sarah when she was in the hospital. Sarah is withdrawn and distant.
After lunch, the group proceed further into the cave. They end up going through a very tight space and Sarah gets stuck. Beth helps Sarah through and the space collapses after Sarah gets out. The group now have no way to go back to the entrance. After an angry discussion, Juno admits that they are not exploring a known cave and that no one knows they have not gone to the cave she should have booked. Juno says that she has done this to help Sarah.
The girls then decide to push forward and look for another exit. They discover cave paintings and old caving equipment which seems to indicate there is another exit. They again push forward looking for more paintings and equipment as “signposts” to the way out. Holly sees light ahead and thinking they have found the exit rushes forward. One of the other girls shouts out that it can’t be another exit so soon and to slow down. Holly ignores her and takes a nasty tumble, breaking her leg.
The girls all climb down to help Holly and put her leg in a splint. While they are giving Holly first aid, Sarah looks around the area they’ve wound up in. She sees someone else in the cave. Thinking them to be more cavers, she shouts for them to help. The other’s in the group are convinced that Sarah, in her stressed state, has been seeing things. As they start to move forward, pasty white creatures attack the group.
The group scatters when the creatures attack. Juno attempts to keep them off of the immobile Holly with a climbing pickaxe. At the apex of the fight Beth comes up behind Juno to help. Juno, thinking that Beth is another creature, acts instinctively and plants the pickaxe in Beth’s neck. Out of the six women who entered the cave, Holly has had her throat ripped out and Beth is mortally wounded, the other four are scared and disorganised. The survivors not only have to find their way out of an unknown cave system, but they must also try to stay alive long enough to do so.
Neil Marshall has made a true gem here. The film starts with a “heart-in-your-throat” moment. Marshall then proceeds to do everything he can to make us jump and squirm in our seats. Right up until the caver’s meet the creatures in the caverns, the claustrophobic and uncomfortable atmosphere the group was facing had me gasping for breath. Even if they had never met the creatures, just the suspense of getting though the cave was more exciting than what most other horror films have to offer.
This is one film that falls into that category of “don’t miss.” Sadly the sequel,which was not done by Marshall, is a pale imitation at best. Although if you saw the original ending of the film, you are probably as confused as I was when I found that a Part 2 was in the mix.
Marshall has definitely given us a film that, quite probably, sets the goalposts for the term “Girl Power.”
- Neil Marshall set to Direct LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER (geektyrant.com)