The Descent (2005): Review by Motion Picture Maniac

The Descent (2005): Review by Motion Picture Maniac

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It’s actually kinda difficult, as of beginning to write this blatant gush, to put into words exactly why I love The Descent as much as I do, aside from it simply being a great film in its own right. As of writing this review, Halloween is imminent, tomorrow in fact, and what film would be better to review than one of my all time favourite horror movies, one that I’m yet to see someone review in honour of Halloween; despite being one of the most terrifying movies ever made in my opinion.

A group of women head out into the wilderness to go cave diving a year after one lost her entire family to a car accident. A rock slide occurs, trapping them underground, and as they try to feel and squint their way through the pitch black tunnels towards some kind of secondary exit, that may not even exist, it becomes very apparent that this cave system also functions as a home for a pack of deformed monstrosities hell bent on gobbling them up. Just when you think being stuck in a maze of caverns and underground tunnels is enough to send you around the twist Mother Nature also sees fit to send the ugliest motherf*ckers on earth to rip you limb from limb; just for good measure.

I first saw The Descent at a time when it just so happened to tick every box I had ready and waiting for a new horror film, as a teenager horror movies were my primary thing (in a feeble and incredibly stupid attempt to seem cool at school) but I didn’t just want any old straight to DVD or generic nonsense, no I wanted something good and for the horror film genre that’s a pretty rare happening. Oh but I was one fussy little sh*t, during childhood I developed an obsession with monster movies, one that carried over into later life, and being young I was frustrated with all the “unseen threats”, potentially cool looking monsters that were constantly kept in the shadows or behind whatever.

Being older now I know that is indeed the better way to go, as what’s scary is what we imagine, not what we can simply gawk at, but back then I wanted a monster I could look at, stare at, but I was setting an impossible task because I also wanted it to be scary; hard to achieve if you’re just going to show it like that. But then along came The Descent, the movie that cracked the code, achieved the impossible, that got away with showing the monster and managing to be utterly terrifying at the same time; it broke the rule and is much better for it. Even into adulthood I find it very scary, so it hasn’t lost its touch or proven it never had one since I was so naive back in the day, in fact, watching it with older and wiser eyes; I do not hesitate to call it one of the greatest horror films of all time.

Even without the monsters the film has a nerve shredding tone, the opening car crash blasts your system to pieces and never lets you piece it back together again – a film in which a child dies in a car accident? I hadn’t seen to much of that before this. Shauna Mcdonald plays her character as not having gotten over it, even as the film skips a year, which sounds realistic enough, who the hell would get over losing their entire family within a single year? But in movies people often get over traumatic experiences rather quickly, and with The Descent’s very cold and autumn-like colour scheme and contrast, one can’t help but feel very uneasy seeing the character Sarah continue to appear as though it only happened last week.

That’s something more than a little under appreciated about this movie, despite knowing full well what it wants to achieve and never straying away from the appropriate simplicity of its plot, Neil Marshall never once forgot that these need to be characters to like and root for. It’s an all female cast without a single stereotype or outdated but atypical trope in sight. We have our hero who starts off uneasy about the whole thing and a tad useless (but never unsympathetic) before literally being reborn in blood and becoming very capable, there’s the one we don’t quite trust, the hero’s one and only hope for sanity who watches out for her (and doesn’t last too long); I mean this so easily could’ve been your run of the mill monsters in a cave movie but we have actual characters running around I legitimately care about – that and… the crawlers.

The crawlers just might be my favourite movie monsters, looking like wax dummies of Gollum on a meth binge that came to life with a hunger for flesh, there’s an uncanny valley feel to what little human features they have left, making them very scary to look at indeed. Like I said before, this movie broke the rule and got away with it, in this instance it isn’t what we don’t see but what we are allowed to have a good close-up look at that makes us fear for our hearts bursting, Marshall handled these beasties like a chemist conducting something dangerous, he gave one million percent effort to every single scene in which even only their presence can be felt.

The sounds they make are what keep us awake in a cold sweat as we try to sleep at night, their faces are what we never hope to see waiting for us in the dark, they’re often shot with a sped up frame rate, a tool I always find effective in horror, that gives their movements a very spider-like feel and they sometimes even interact with the camera, looking right into or coming straight for it; making us feel they’re coming for us. That’s why they work so well and succeed in being truly scary, every shot showing them feels thought over and carefully crafted, like Marshall has horror down to a science, he never just throws them onscreen, every time the show up its like the first time we see them; even when they’re not there we know they’re not too far away.

It’s funny because you almost don’t need the crawlers at first for the film to be effective, it’s dark tunnels and caves give even someone like me, who must be as far away from claustrophobic as you can get, the chill that gives your spine a good… crawling. When they do make their grand appearance I was surprised they don’t actually show up to cause trouble until roughly the last half hour or so and it’s a bloodbath, quite literally a bloodbath; the kind of lair I would rather die than wake up trapped in. The set design and lighting complement each other very well, making you feel not just trapped but in somewhere you absolutely don’t want to be trapped in.

That’s something the sequel really failed to do, the lighting style consisted of little more than having everything be pitch black and having the characters hold a very minimal light source and I can’t recall many movies presenting darkness to quite that extent. One thing to note is how little time there was to make the damn thing, sets are reused a number of times for different locations but you can never tell, there’s a two on three fight scene at the end that could only be shot in one single day and it’s better than most films allowed to shoot theirs in a week; every time I see it I can never tell where there’s any kind of compromise.

Then there’s the fan theory about a particular hidden subtext, especially regarding the film’s uniquely bleak ending. What can I say except that I absolutely love this theory, it is said that, in actuality, there are no crawlers, that Sarah has lost her mind and murdered all of her friends, something else that makes this film that tiny bit more special – you can think about it too, more than you can say about most other creature features. I could go on folks, I really could, The Descent was my dream movie as a teenager and now, as an adult, it’s just one of the best horror films ever, for me it’s perfect, the outstanding lighting and cinematography that create genuine uneasiness, the characters you actually like and don’t want to see die, the fantastic handling and presentation of its monsters that succeed in being very scary, extreme gore, relentless violence and a very interesting subtext; this is a movie I cannot live without.

Author: Motion Picture Maniac 

 


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Blog: Grosse Point Geek’s Top Ten(ish) Favorite Horror Films  – A Halloween Special

Blog: Grosse Point Geek’s Top Ten(ish) Favorite Horror Films – A Halloween Special

Grosse Point Geek Uncategorized

Halloween, that yearly celebration of devil worship, blood drenched supernatural death and goat sacrifice ,where children up and down the land merrily dress up as various incarnations of the undead, get their parents consent to bang on people’s doors begging for sweets and then wantonly vandalize their property if the poor sods don’t cough up the goods.  Indeed my own fiendish plan to scare off the little bastards this year was completely thwarted the other day by a rather nervous looking shop assistant at my local joke shop, who claimed never to have heard of the Evil Dead and therefore could sadly not supply me with a life size demon doll that would scream “dead by dawn!” at any bunch of trick or treaters foolish enough to disturb my evening.

Anyway, I’m getting off the point. As a lifelong film geek its fair to say that of the many thousands that I have watched, a good proportion have been firmly rooted in the department marked ‘Horror’. Now admittedly I’m not the biggest fan of this genre -I didn’t enjoy the Nightmare On Elm Street series (how a child killer could become a cult icon is beyond me), have never been able to fathom the popularity of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and have absolutely no desire to watch the likes on I Spit On Your Grave, Driller Killer or Last House on The Left.

However, there are in fact some rather good ones out there that I have thoroughly enjoyed and even have in my rather huge dvd collection – and as Halloween is soon to be upon us, i thought id share with you all my top 10 favourite horror films all time- read on if you dare!

 


 

1. The Descent (2005)

 

Director: Neil Marshall

Actors: Shauna McDonald, Natalie Mendoza

A definite contender for one of the scariest films ever made. Neil Marshall’s magnum opus centres on a group of female thrill seekers who get trapped underground in the Appalachian mountains and then one by one fall foul to a bloodthirsty pack of cave dwelling cannibals. I must have seen this ten times over and it still scares the crap out of me, superbly written, hideously claustrophobic, well acted by the no name cast, directed with panache, skill and verve by Marshall and certainly not one to watch alone.

Best Bit: When the creatures finally reveal themselves – don’t look down that camera lens!

 

 

2. Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott

Actors: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, Yaphett Kotto, Veronica Cartwright.

A deep space mining vessel responds to an apparent distress signal from a nearby planetoid and goes to investigate. All is going well until one of the crew (John Hurt) gets a sort of parasite attached his face and is taken on board the ship for medical assistance – big mistake. A near perfect film that combines scares, body horror and classic sci fi plus HR Giger’s astoundingly horrible alien monster that would give even Freddy Krueger the willies.

Best Bit: The Chestburster scene – (“the food aint that bad baby!”)

 

 

3. The Omen (1976)

 

Director: Richard Donner

Actors: Gregory Peck, Patrick Troughton, Lee Remick, David Warner.

When the American Ambassador to Britain (Peck) discovers that his infant son is none other than the Antichrist, he teams up with a freelance photographer (Warner) to discover the awful truth and thwart Satan’s evil plans for mankind.

This one always manages to put the frighteners on me – mainly due to Jerry Goldsmiths nerve jangling score and Richard Donner’s suspenseful direction that very intelligently chooses to be less concerned about daft monsters and OTT effects and more to do with the nature of fear and lurking danger hiding in the shadows, which cleverly manages to keep the viewer guessing as to whether or not the story is all real or just a series of supposed coincidences.

Best bit: That final shot – Young Damien, standing at his parents funeral (whilst holding the US Presidents hand no less) – turns to the camera…………..and just smiles.

 

4. The Exorcist (1973)
Director: William Friedkin

Actors: Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller.

Celebrated critic Mark Kermode cites this as his favourite film ever – and its not hard to see why. Cherubic looking Regan (Blair) becomes possessed by the demon Pazuzu, then proceeds to speak in tongues, levitate off the bed, vomit pea soup, make unseemly suggestions about exactly what Priest Jason Miller’s dead mother is up to in hell – and don’t even get me started on what she does with that crucifix!

To say the least the Exorcist is one of those films that gets better with every viewing, Friedkin’s direction doesn’t put a foot wrong, the make up and sound effects are still astounding, and the use of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is a work of sheer genius.

Best bit: The climactic Exorcism sequence, where the two Jesuit priests do epic battle with the demon- very uncomfortable to watch – but brilliant nonetheless.

 

5.The Thing (1982)

Director: John Carpenter

Actors: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David.

A critical and commercial disappointment on its release, this has since become a deserved cult classic. For those not in the know – a shape shifting alien life form gradually infects the men of an Antarctic research station, who then not only have to attempt to destroy said beastie but also avoid killing each other in the process.

Best bit: That ending  – too exhausted to carry on, Kurt Russell and Keith David sit outside in the freezing Arctic cold and watch the station burn to the ground  – both still unsure if they too have been infected by the alien (“lets just wait…..and see what happens”)

 

6.Poltergeist (1982)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Actors: Jo-beth Williams, Craig T Nelson, Heather O’Rourke

Awesome film  – written and produced by Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist tells the story of how an ordinary apple pie American family are haunted by a terrible supernatural force that turns their lives upside down when it abducts their youngest daughter (O’Rourke). Now some may argue that this is more of a ghost story than a straight up horror  – but with shocks aplenty, rotting corpses rising from the grave, killer trees and huge monsters appearing out of the ether – it’d be hard to call it anything else. Basically if you haven’t seen this yet then shame on you!

Best bit: Williams, Nelson and the ghost hunting team’s final nail biting attempt to rescue O’Rourke from the clutches of the poltergeist(“don’t let go!”)

 

7 .An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Director: John Landis

Actors: David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter

Naughton and Dunne are two American students on a back packing trip to England who proceed to get lost on the Yorkshire moors and are attacked by a werewolf. Rick Baker’s make up effects deservedly won a bunch of awards and are still impressive even by today’s standards. Its also seriously funny, and damned scary in parts too- most notably the scene at the beginning where the boys are attacked on the moors, and THAT sequence in the deserted London tube station (“i shall report this”!).

Best Bit: The Slaughtered Lamb – Naughton and Dunne walk into East Proctor’s local boozer looking for something to eat, only to be met with stony silence and icy stares by a very unwelcoming bunch of locals. The tension doesn’t last long though as the great Brian Glover proceeds to loudly tell a hilarious joke about 3 blokes in a crashing plane (“he chucks out the Mexican!”) which results in the entire pub collapsing in fits of laughter (just dont ask what that star on the wall is).

 

8.Horror Of Dracula (1958)

Director: Terrence Fisher

Actors: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough.

Hammer’s extremely loose take on the Bram Stoker classic features Peter Cushing as Van Helsing (endless supply of crucifixes) Christopher Lee as Dracula (iffy fangs, silly run) a mad music score by James Bernard, clunky sets, and daft dialogue (“but its HORRIBLE!”). However none of this matters as its enormous fun, chugs along at a rare old pace and never fails to bring a big smile to my face every time ive watched it.

Best Bit: The seriously exciting climactic showdown between Van Helsing and Dracula, involving a table, some curtains, a handy set of candlesticks and alot of sunlight- classic stuff.

 

9.The Fog (1980)

Director: John Carpenter

Actors: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins.

On the eve of its centenary celebrations – a small Californian fishing community is plagued by a mysterious fog that kills all in its wake. Another Carpenter classic, well made and very creepy  – a must for all horror fans.

Best bit: The Sea Grass boat scene (“hey, there’s a fog bank out there”).

 

 

10. Dawn of The Dead (2004)

Director: Zach Snyder

Actors: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber.

Remake of the 1978 Romero classic – which is a very good film, however (and yes Hobden i know this is sacrilege!) i much prefer Snyder’s more polished version that ups the scares and gore quota, throws in bags of action, is better acted and features some really awesome zombies who, rather than mindlessly shuffle about, are depicted as vicious screaming death machines who charge full pelt to get at their victims.

Best bit: Just after Sarah Polley’s nurse escapes from her neighbourhood which has been overrun, the camera pulls back and shows us a birds eye view of her car heading towards a city in utter chaos.

 

 

11.Halloween 3: The Season Of The Witch (1982)

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Actors: Dan O’Herlihy, Tom Atkins.

I thought i close this feature with one of my all time favourites  – i mean what’s a film list without at least one guilty pleasure???

Bearing no relation to the series featuring the Michael Myers character  – this was supposed to kick off a new ‘Halloween’ franchise that would tell a different story with each film. Unfortunately poor box office sales put the kibosh on that, so what we have instead is a very weird (and utterly mental) standalone story featuring O’Herlihy’s unhinged Irish toy maker, who plans to murder all the children in America using booby trapped Halloween masks. Now in my humble opinion this is an unappreciated gem of a film, that is actually extremely well made, with an interesting witchcraft subplot and a doozy of an ending that has to be seen to be believed……………………………..All together now – “one more day to Halloween!…..Halloween! Halloween! one more day to Halloween -silveeeeershamrock!

Best Bit: O’Herlihy’s chilling confession to a somewhat shocked Atkins, about who he really is and exactly what he plans to do on his favourite night of the year (“….the hills ran red with the blood of children and animals!”)

 


 

There you go – my top ten horror films – certainly all worth a watch if you fancy a good scare this Halloween – just wish i had one of the zombies from Dawn of the Dead to see off those bleedin’ trick or treaters – oh bugger there goes the door again………………now where did i put that bucket of fresh pigs blood???????????????

Author: Will Strong