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I'll never understand thrill seekers that go jumping off mountains or diving out of planes chasing after their parachute. The real world is scary enough. If you don't believe me, just read the ingredients used in a Boston Cream donut. You'll never look at a Dunkin Donuts the same way again. I don't need to go spelunking to have a good time. I understand enjoying the great outdoors, but you won't crash into the ground at 300 miles per hour watching a movie on your couch. Of course, that doesn't make for an entertaining horror movie.
The Descent is a 2005 horror movie starring Shauna Macdonald (The Mutant Chronicles, Silent Night, Deadly Night) as Sarah. After a trip whitewater rafting with her friends in Scotland, Sarah's family gets in to a car accident, killing her husband and daughter. One year later, Sarah is reunited with her friends Juno (Natalie Mendoza, Moulin Rouge, Surviving Evil), Beth, Sam, and Rebecca at a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains. They are joined by Juno's new friend and “protege” Holly. The next morning, the group goes caving and Juno apologizes to Sarah for not being there for her after the accident. Sarah is distant and aloof, often thinking about her daughter celebrating her birthday. The group descends down into the cave and through a tight passageway. It collapses, trapping the group. They try to get their bearings when Juno reveals that they are in a different, unchartered cave than the one they expected to explore. She believed it would be a bonding experience for the group to discover a new cave and even suggested naming it after Sarah. The group discovers cave paintings suggesting there is a way out and descend deeper into the darkness. Holly believes she sees daylight and falls down a hole, fracturing her leg. As they help her, Sarah spots a humanoid creature in the darkness. The group is attacked by these creatures and Holly is killed. Juno fights them off and accidentally stabs Beth. Sarah is separated from the group and watches the creatures feed on Holly. She escapes the feeding pit with a pickaxe and comes across a mortally wounded Beth who asks Sarah to kill her. The group is slowly picked off by the monsters, leaving only Sarah and Juno. Will they be able to survive and what else has Juno been keeping from Sarah?
Red is totally your color
The first half of the movie focuses mostly on the group's relationship as the deal with being stuck in the cave. While it is slow at times, the first half does have some thrills and a good amount of tension. In all honesty, the movie could have just been about being stuck in a cave. It wouldn't have been a horror movie in the traditional sense, but I think it still would have been scary. If James Franco can make a movie about having his arm pinned against a rock, they could have done it first. It's the second half where the action picks up and becomes a more traditional monster movie. The creatures look good as they still look vaguely human, but monstrous enough to be unsettling. The movie has a good amount of blood and gore, but doesn't rely on it to tell the story.
I am not afraid of small spaces, but The Descent made me feel completely claustrophobic. The movie is very dark, which serves to create a greater sense of fear and atmosphere, but also made it difficult to tell just who was who in the group. I couldn't really keep track of which character was being killed and it led to some confusion. The movie has many great clean shots, like Sarah running up a hill of bones or ascending from a pool of blood. I particularly liked that scene as it is a metaphor for her spiritual rebirth. When she rises from the pool of blood, she is no longer the shell of a person she had been after her daughter's death and goes on a monster killing spree. Shauna Macdonald is very good in both her roles and is a very convincing action hero. Natalie Mendoza also does well in her action sequences.
For the last time, I wasn't The Master from Buffy!
There were two things in the movie that really bothered me. First, I was disappointed that a movie with an all-female cast came down to a fight over a man. There was no need for it and it cheapened the entire experience. Why thrown in a story of adultery when it really adds nothing to the movie? It also forces the hero of the movie to do something very unheroic, which didn't sit well with me. The second was the ending. Apparently, I watched the U.S. version of The Descent which had a different ending from the UK version. The U.S. Version ended so abruptly that I legitimately thought there was something wrong with my version. This version also makes all the scenes involving Sarah's daughter completely moot. You can actually view the UK ending on Youtube which is far better and makes much more sense. There is supposed to be a sequel to The Descent and that is my only guess as to why the altered the ending.
The Descent is a good monster movie with a few fatal flaws. The monsters look good and the action is fast-paced and really entertaining. It takes some patience to get there, but it's worth the wait. There is a good amount of blood and gore, but nothing too over-the-top. The acting is good and the direction is particularly great with some really cool shots and scenes. It was really good to see an all-female cast involved in a horror movie, but disappointing that they had to reduce the story to a fight over a man. The altered ending is abrupt and confusing made all the worse because it makes previous scenes in the movie pointless. If you want to see The Descent, do yourself a favor and find the UK version. It really makes a big difference because the ending in the US version brings down the entire movie.
Special thanks to reader Camie (@silvershamrockd) for helping me figure out the differences in the UK and U.S. Version.