October Extras #5 - The Descent (2005)

OCTOBER 5, 2007


Before I became "press", I used to go to a lot of free movie screenings via radio station/newspaper giveaways. They were usually pretty annoying, since the whole "free" aspect tended to bring in a lot of folks who ordinarily didn't go to the movies, they would be 'hosted' by DJs or whoever (in one amazing display of idiocy, a DJ tried to get the crowd pumped for World Trade Center. "Are you ready for World Trade Center??? WOOOOOO!" - actual quote. Astonishing.), and you had to wait in long lines and not even be guaranteed to get in. But one such screening that stuck out was for Neil Marshall's The Descent. On the way in, we got little penlights. At first we thought it was just a promotional giveaway, but once we got into the theater, we saw they were quite useful. In order to try to replicate the pitch black setting of the film, they shut all the house lights off (not dimmed - OFF) while everyone was trying to find their seats. It was a clusterfuck, but it was fun, and there was some damn good gropage.

The movie itself is a near masterpiece of modern horror. Marshall's previous film, Dog Soldiers, was a fun little movie, sort of Evil Dead with werewolves, but this was just a remarkably solid film. Deftly combining both a standard monster movie with a truly sad psychological story (one that was somewhat dampened with the US edit, which removed the film's final, haunting, depressing shot), it set the bar pretty goddamn high for any subgenre the movie belonged to.

The great thing about the movie is how scary it is before the damn monsters even show up. I legit yelped the first time I saw the film at a particular shock scare early on, and the scenes of the girls getting stuck in tiny passageways as they navigate the cave system are pretty terrifying as well. Plus, Marshall is a master of subtle reveals, giving the film enormous rewatchability (check out the scene right after the cave in, when Sarah is looking around with her flashlight - there's a monster's hand or something without a single musical sting or scream to accompany it). Like the best survival horror movies, there are nature elements as well as the monster/killer to worry about, and Marshall's script never lets one really overshadow the other.

Plus, it's gory as hell. Those cannibalistic humanoids that dwell under the ground (I wish they had a simple acronym to use to describe them) spray their innards everywhere when killed, and they have a knack for likewise killing the girls as gorily as possible. Again, Marshall succeeds in both areas - he's made a chilling psychological horror film, AND a splatter film, and whether you consider it one type of film or the other, it works just as well. I should note that some folks believe the monsters don't exist at all; that Sarah killed her friends herself. And while I don't buy into this theory, it certainly has some evidence to support it, and gives the film another level of interpretation. Can't say that about Captivity.

So are there ANY flaws? Well, maybe the film is TOO subtle for a modern audience. A good friend of mine totally missed that the Juno character was fucking Sarah's husband, and thus didn't really connect with the ending, as she felt it was needlessly cruel and unjustified. But is that really a flaw? It's more the fault of Marshall's peers for spelling everything out for us so often (ahem, Saw 3) that when someone actually respects audience intelligence, the effect is lost because everyone is used to shutting that intelligence off before they sit down in the theater (Note - this wasn't a problem for me. I am well versed in the cinematic language of "cheating whores").

I haven't gone through the DVD yet, though it has a nice collection of extras in theory. The R2 one has even more (plus DTS!) but given my limited time to actually watch the damn things lately, I probably won't import it. I WOULD like to have an HD version (it's currently on BluRay), since like 80% of every frame in the film is total blackness, I think it would look amazing and reveal more detail (in terms of shades of dark) than can be seen in a standard def one.

It was my pick for best horror film of 2006, and watching it again didn't make me reconsider that. The Descent is simply a great fucking movie, and if Doomsday turns out good, Marshall will officially be the only modern genre director I think will be revered in 20 or 30 years the way John Carpenter and Wes Craven are now.

What say you?


  1. i love this movie; it's definately one worth watching a few times... i think it'll be my pick for tomorrow.

  2. This is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. And I'm not even talking about the monsters part. Just watching the girls navigate through the cave made me feel uneasy and claustrophobic. It's a great accomplishment by Marshall, but I'm not sure if he's going to be the Carpenter or Craven of the future. I haven't seen his other work though, so I can't really judge. However, only modern genre director? I think Alexandre Aja has a good shot too.

  3. IMO, Aja has yet to prove he can make an entirely good movie though. High Tension was hampered by a conclusion that betrayed the film, and Hills was good but it was pretty much a straight remake, the only thing he really added to his version was the worst part of it (all the pseudo terrorist shit with the 'brain' mutant).

  4. This movie was awesome! My husband gets so tired of me always wanting to watch horrow films, but he loved this one! This movie rocks and is scary the whole way through. Come to think of it, I'm going to go buy it tomorrow for my collection!

  5. i agree with pretty much everything you've said here. It was the first horror movie in a long time that actually made me sit back and say "Wow."

    - risa -

  6. Someone didn't get the cheating woman sub-plot?Christ.That is totally blatant,how can someone miss that?So many people need everything explaining to them.
    What annoys me about the film is the way that it was blatantly aimed at the US audience by featuring an unnecessary American and pretending to be set in the US even though it was all filmed in Scotland.And then after getting a good release here it gets raped for the US audience and released a year or more after.
    Fucking shitty Hollywood and brain dead Americans.
    Its the best horror film not made in France for years.And the end is outstanding.I love totally downbeat endings.But of course fucking US standard money making means that everything gets fucked with.
    Joint best ending to a film ever along with the proper version of The Vanishing...which you should watch too,along with the US remake as being yet another example of the US studio system being run by absolute abortions.

  7. that's it you ahve finally convinced me. I'm going to get this from the Vid store on the way home.

  8. I honestly didn't think I'd like this movie during the first half, but by the end I loved it.

    I didn't think Sarah's husband having an affair with Juno was hard to see. I knew that it was happening before the accident. And it was confirmed several times before the end of the movie.

    I really, really liked the interaction between Juno and Sarah. That, along with wondering if it would be psychological or a real monster, and the monsters themselves, made me really love the movie.

  9. Hey BC,

    Great review of a deserving film. I appreciated the movie's ambiguity as well as its claustrophobic atmosphere.



  10. I thought about this movie for a long time after watching it--always a good sign--and the more I thought about it, the more I came to see it as a sort of Shakespearean tragedy with Juno, not Sarah, as the hero.

    Bear with me here.

    Juno is a heroic figure. She's super confident, (usually) super-capable, and pretty much fearless. However, like all tragic heroes, she has a fatal flaw--i.e., she's fucking Sarah's husband. Sarah is her best friend, and Juno (imo) is completely wallowing in shame and guilt over the affair, esp. now that the husband is dead and Sarah is mentally broken.

    So in a vain attempt to make things right, or at least to atone, she tries to "fix" Sarah by bringing her on this thrill-seeking excursion, just like they always used to do. Of course since it's a tragedy, the hero's fatal flaw comes back and is the instrument of her destruction.

    Okay, so maybe Juno isn't the hero of the whole movie, but the "tragic hero" story works--esp. in the end, when she's almost literally saved Sarah, and (spoilers!) Sarah exacts "justice." You can see Juno realizing and accepting what had happened, and then, heroically, despite the fact that Sarah has just crippled her and sealed her fate, Juno turns to attempt to hold off the things so that her friend, her killer, can escape.

    That's EPIC, is what that is. :)

    As you can see, Juno was my favorite character. Cocky, capable, fatally flawed, and in the end, noble. I just dug the shit out of that.

    I didn't even mind the "American" ending, though it was very abrupt. The UK ending is less abrupt, but like I say, seeing the US one didn't dampen my enjoyment one bit.

  11. I didnt mind the US ending either, because I saw it first and didn't know better. Now I feel it's a bit insulting.

  12. This movie has the word "Classic" written all over it, It pushed every expectation and made me shiver with the claustro moments (never happened to me before) i loved all the characters and the "final duel" between Sarah and juno,was simply perfect, If the movie were to have a happy ending, it would be the death of a masterpiece, the uk ending wa the only way to end, the us. ending was a lame attempt to put the movie on the line of ju-on (remake)and the rest of the crap we have been enduring the last 4 years, and this movie put them to shame, Just as easy "final destination" did to the "scream" ..."last sumer" stuff, "Saw" to several pseudo thrillers and now "hatchet" to the slashers films.

    Saw 2 made me believe that there´s hope for good sequels, let´s pray that "De2cent" delivers too.

  13. To be fair and unhyperbolic, the US ending was hardly a "happy ending." Sarah didn't die, but she clearly wasn't going to be doing an "I'm OK, You're OK" speaking tour anytime soon. Ending her days in an asylum, that's how I read that ending--which doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy.

    I get that people like the everybody-dies ending better, but come on. I don't see how ending it where the US cut did totally negated the accomplishment of the first hour and however long, and "killed a masterpiece." It was still good, just different.

    Plus, it's over, done. Let's get outraged about something else.

    Like: are they REALLY calling it "De2cent"? Honestly?

  14. Vicar, I agree with you. (Shocking, I know!) :)

  15. So - like many - this is my all time fave horrow movie. i remember reading about it from some UK horror site or somethng way back when it hit theaters in the UK... so - being in canada - i did what i had to do to see the movie (no i didn't fly to the UK). and i was amazed.

    we all know the part when the bad guys start to show up (not the small glimpses throughout which i have counted 6 i think) - but when u see them - man - my ex-wife screamed and jumped so high it was the best thing i ever saw.


    so as it was ok - i imported the 2 disc version from the UK. and that was awesome having all the extras, as the making of doc is excellent.

    i have since purchased the Blu Ray version - and it is really amazing. for a movie set in the dark - this disc has an excellent picture and blackness that you must see.

    bewaRE THAT on players other than a PS3 you might have issues as the BD-JAVE component of the disc made it unreadable in alot of the blu ray players back then.


    if Marshall would do a sequel - or even a prequel - i would be into it. but someone else? only if marshall wrote it...

    actually if you have seen the Planet Earth documentary - the CAVES episode has some interestinginfo on how long it would take any animal - to eventually lose it's site/eys from living in an underground cave. we are talking over a thousand years... many generations.... made me think of descent when i heard that....

  16. Yeah if i get BluRay itll be PS3, so thats good to know... I hope to get through the extras someday, October is just a mess. And if i go too long I'll just want to watch the movie again. But Ill def see it eventually... might be 2050 or so, but i'll see it. :)

  17. BC,

    I was in Melbourne his week for a holdiday and I came across a DVD of this movie. Its brillaint and it had the everyone dies ending so I was happy.

    It was so scary my girlfriend stopped watching after the first big 'fight' scene. heh.

    I would never have seen this movie without this blog so cheers.

  18. This is the best horror film ever made! I got to meet Neil Marshall and had him sign my copy.

  19. This is my favourite movie. I'm a horror fan, and it's a truly excellent film that happens to combine a lot of things I like in horror. Supernatural creatures rather than human killers, that trapped feeling, the suggestion that it might not be real but the main character is just batshit crazy, adult characters rather than teens, cool lighting... I really expect in twenty years or so, it'll be considered a genre classic.

    BTW, what Sarah did to Juno - I've always felt that was more revenge for Beth than about the cheating. Sarah didn't know it had been an accident, and she showed Juno the necklace to tell her she had found Beth and knew what Juno had done.

    Oh, and I just love that Sarah and Juno draw such a wide range of reactions. People interpret them in so many different ways.

  20. Watched this the other day for my Shocktoberfest blog.

    Loved. The. Shit. Out. Of. It.

    I think I prefer the US ending - just because she lives doesn't make it 'happy'...

    I picked up on the "cheating whore" plotline but I'm that used to being spoon fed I wasn't sure we were SUPPOSED to pick up on it - I assumed it was the reminant of a plot that had found its way to the cutting room floor - I was quite shocked when I watched the sequel the following day and it got mentioned in that!

    F'in awsome movie though.

  21. This movie is a masterpiece. I thought the claustrophobia didn't get me until she broke out of the cave and I took a big breath with her. It was then I realized I was holding my breath the whole time! The acting, the character to character interaction, and the plot made it the best horror film of modern cinema. The original extended ending was the final kick that pushed the audience back to despair. Absolutely brilliant.


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