Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Nora-Jane Noone, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring
(R, 99 min.)
"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!" Dante Alighieri
Okay, you think. What better escape from the relentless summer sun than underground caverns, cool and dark, softened by cool mist and electrified by the spirit of adventure! But the buff sextet of British babes on screen get more than they bargain for in their descent not only into Mother Earth but madness as well?
And I haven’t even gotten to the slimy carnivores, looking like cathedral Gargoyles come to bloody life, casual betrayals and trysts, not to mention cave-ins, chasms, claustrophobia, and cloaking darkness.
And make no mistake about it. This film is horror with a capital H, and also rates very high on the BFB&G factor; that is -- Body Fluids, Blood, and Gore. Needless to say, it is not for the faint of heart.
One aspect that distinguishes Descent from other horror flicks is its all female cast -- a brief vignette features Sarah’s husband in the opening, but he and her daughter are both snuffed out tragically before the opening credits roll. The thrill seeking femmes are control freak Juno (Natalie Mendoza), who plans the descent, failing to disclose that it is not the relatively benign one described in the tourist brochures; still shaken Sarah, reeling from the tragedy that ended their last annual adventure; nurturing Beth (Alex Reid), ambivalent about the “adventure” and Juno as well; good soldier Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), now joined by Sam (MyAnna Buring), her half-sister on break from medical school, and new to the group, No Holds Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) an adrenaline junkie if there ever was one.
The fact that British director Neil Marshall chose to cast relatively unknown actresses who bring skill and authenticity to the spare character development and dialogue is also a plus. They are perhaps a bit too good looking to be completely believable, looking more like magazine mannequins in their super cool spelunking gear – all of it looks brand new and completely unused – but their low key performances and taut script suspend disbelief.
The lighting allows the audience to share in the barely controlled claustrophobic panic of the lost girls; relentless black is only illuminated by their finite human devices, such as blue helmet lights, red flares, white torches, and the utterly Dantesque world revealed through a camera’s ultra-violet magic.
As in Poe we have a deep element of the psychological, featuring the semi deranged musings of someone at least partly unhinged, and we are never quite sure if the image on screen is real or the haunting hallucinations of grief-stricken Sarah. So we are kept off guard treading that taut line between truth and illusion, a planned deception that doesn’t end until the final scene – whether it’s the completely bleak UK ending or the slightly cheerier American one.
The structure of Descent is purposely broken into four segments, in my opinion, a somewhat awkward device that interrupts the flow and pacing. The brief opening scene sets the emotional underpinnings and tragic backdrop in motion, while the girls’ night out in the Appalachian cabin one year later gives us thumbnail sketches of the characters. Next,unexpected realities down under tear away the social veneers as the fight for survival takes charge. Certain critics, perhaps this one included, would have liked this realistic challenge to remain the focus of the film, but the deeper we venture into the bowels of the earth – with all its visceral dimensions revealed – the more the light of reason succumbs to the darker sides of the soul.
So we are sucked into a slippery vortex of evil by a bloody maw that holds us under its sea of gore until we gasp for the air and light. Strange as it may seem, some of us actually pay for the experience.
Whatever food you may want to go along with Descent, I’d suggest having it before and not after the film. Or perhaps your stomach is stronger than mine.
In keeping with the upbeat, almost giddy mood of the four wheeling dash to the cave’s mouth, the camaraderie and girlish exuberance of that fateful morning, I'd vote for some good trail mix. Let’s face it, these gals are much more likely to be riding the rapids than slaving in front of a range to cook up a hot breakfast for their cohorts.
I’ve dubbed this concoction Trust Me Trail Mix in honor of their complete but unfounded confidence in Juno’s planned adventure.
On the other hand, those more inclined to the macabre might want to wash down a Bloody Mary or two to get yourselves in the proper mood for thisDescent.
Trust Me Trail Mix
- 1 lg. jar unsalted peanuts
- 1 (6 oz.) pkg. chocolate chips
- 1 sm. pkg. raisins
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. This is a high-energy trail mix for those summer hikes - not salty, so it doesn't make you thirsty!
Given that it is extremely hot right now – even in our northern reaches -- the no salt idea is appealing. As for our six spelunkers – well, let’s suffice it to say that the water sources in their cave are not exactly pristine. Lest you forget, take another look at the picture above.
Recipe Source: Cooks.com