The Descent

I am as guilty of this as the next critic, but I do think horror films get a bad rap.

Sure, the latest crop of films in that genre tends to be splatter-fests, mainly there to shock the audience with as much violence and gore as possible, but the genre still has a lot to offer.

“The Descent,” written and directed by Neil Marshall, curiously encompasses both the positive and negative attributes of a modern horror film.

The film opens with three women, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid), finishing up a river-rafting adventure. Sarah’s husband Paul and her daughter Jessica are there to greet them at the end of the line, and while there is a little tension in that marriage, they drive away happy…right up until a gruesome car accident leaves Sarah a devastated and somewhat unhinged woman.

Flash forward to one year later and our friends are meeting again for an adventure, this time exploring a cave system with three more friends, Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) and sisters Rebecca (Saskia Mulder) and Sam (MyAnna Buring).

Following Juno’s lead, the six women begin exploring these awesome/creepy caves, and after an unfortunate cave-in, they realize they are trapped and must find a way out.

This early part of the film is the highlight of the show. Marshall really knows what to with a camera; sure, it’s all shot in a studio, but thanks to lighting and camera work, it doesn’t look like it. Those sets look and feel like a real cave system, and he creates such a genuine claustrophobic feel that some of those scenes are just too hard to watch without looking away (and we haven’t even gotten to the monsters yet!).

Really, “The Descent” has quite the setup, but in some ways I wish it could have just stayed a creep fest, but this is a horror film, and beasties must come out to attack our friends when they can’t find their way out. And here is where the film’s weaknesses come out and declare themselves.

For starters, like a lot of horror films, there are just too many characters who exist just to get picked off. Really, the movie would have been much better off is two or three of the main cast were just not there and the action instead focused on the characters we’ve gotten to know a little better.

And while the violence in the movie certainly ups the stakes for the characters, a lot of the fight scenes are edited so heavily that it can be difficult to follow what’s happening on screen.

Even with those complaints, its triumphs outweigh its failures. “The Descent” is certainly a flawed film, but in some ways, especially in the style category, it does its genre proud.

“The Decent” (2002)

Written and directed by Neil Marshall

Starring: Shauna Macdonald (Sarah)

Natalie Jackson Mendoza (Juno)

Alex Reid (Beth)

Saskia Mulder (Rebecca)

MyAnna Buring (Sam)

Nora-Jane Noone (Holly)