This lurid British spelunking horror film from Neil Marshall takes a little while to really get going, but definitely makes good on its tagline, "face your deepest fear."
The Descent, for some, may resemble Aliens by way of Deliverance. While many may have trouble connecting through its characterizations, there are unbearable moments of claustrophobia and tension that unfold with much precision. Those who experienced last summer's debacle known as The Cave should be pleasantly freaked out this time around.
A viscerally-mounted accident after rafting with friends leaves Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) an emotional wreck. Running through the hallways after waking in her hospitable bed is hard to watch for those closest to her.
But she is coaxed by her friends, including a very limber Juno (Natalie Mendoza) on a new extreme adventure. Now, it's cave exploration beneath the Appalachian Mountains. However, accidents and one rather alarming decision will leave them without direction in the subterrain. In time, they'll realize that others roam in the darkness, while not being the first of their kind to travel this path.
Credit Marshall for working meticulously with his crew to make the settings like chasms and ravines closed-knit for the optimal effect of what goes bump in the dark. He systematically lets the chill settle in before turning up the sanguine quotient with primal force. After the women view some of the "cave art", things get more squimish with the appearance of beings resembling Gollums on growth hormones.
From the opening where it's pretty clear that something's been going on behind someone's back, an interesting dynamic plays out as the blood-drenched cinema leaves one a bit unhinged during some sharply edited, if too chaotic violent encounters. Macdonald is impressive in the emotive way she supplements her dreams with unsettling observations (a piece of jewelry with the words "love each day" proves important), channelling a less telekinetic Sissy Spacek. And, Mendoza, as Juno, ends up demonstrating more than being a junior Ellen Ripley.
While grossing us out beyond a serated hand and a broken leg, Marshall is able to make one reach for the armrests in such a way that may convert more than a few into horror. Besides Carrie it's hard not to see that Marshall wasn't influenced by The Blair Witch Project, especially when it comes to the night-vision camerawork, however less herky-jerky. The solemn score sounds awfully familiar to excerpts from The Silence of the Lambs.
If The Descent has bigger narrative gaps than the ones the estrogen-filled spelunkers have to squeeze through with fall protection needed at a moment's notice, some unexpected emotion surfaces through the underground madness soaked in Grand Guignol fashion.