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"The Descent"

Directed by Neil Marshall.
Written by Neil Marshall.
Starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid and Nora-Jane Noone.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  8/7/06


Although I had not seen any previews or trailers for "The Descent", my friend Karl had seen this film at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, and he loved it.  The buzz seemed apparent in little snippets that I saw for the film online, so I was fired up to check this one out...when the online ad I saw on Yahoo! had the byline of "The Best Horror/Thriller Since 'Alien'", I figured I needed to check this out.

I didn't love "The Descent", I liked it...but strangely, not for the reasons that I think many others loved this.  The film starts off with three women finishing up a rafting trip--loving wife and mother Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), best friend Beth (Alex Reid) and gung-ho adventurer Juno (Natalie Mendoza).  As Sarah's husband and daughter meet the three women as they de-raft (a word? doubtful), you can tell something is up between Juno and her other friends, but we get to that later.  Sarah hops in the Land Rover with her family to drive home, but that gets interrupted by an awful car crash.

Flash forward to a year later--Sarah, Beth and Juno are meeting up with three other women for a caving expedition somewhere in the Appalachians, as a way to reunite but also as a way to get Sarah's mind off of her accident from a year ago.  The six women gear up and head off to a previously-undiscovered cave nearby...and when the cave entrance collapses, the six women have to band together to find their way out.  Oh, and did anybody else see that monster hiding in the corner a second ago?

That last bit is important, because for me, it forces you to take a different approach to the fear you were already lined up to experience.  Here's what I mean--I LOVED "The Descent" as a caving drama, because that was absolutely enough for me to cower in fear, the idea that people would go off to discover new caves in remote places with spaces tight enough only for a 5'2", 105-pound woman to explore.  And, what happens when the rocks shift and give way?  You are trapped, that's what!  And how will you find your way out?  When will you start to go totally crazy?

So, for the first half of the film, I was pretty hooked.  Sure, the chemistry between our leads is not so good, the dialogue is a little cheesy (or maybe it was "cheeky") and at times, difficult to understand, since this is a British production.  But, the female adventurer angle is not one we get in films too often, and one that I was excited to ride out.

Then, the creepy crawly things show up, and either you are down or you're not at that point.

The monster bit then takes over and becomes "Alien" with less suspense and a LOT more gushing blood visuals; we also get to see who will emerge as our Sigourney Weaver character, complete with (naturally) Characters Who Suddenly Become Rambo after spending most of the film as pacifists with glow sticks and flares.  I won't lie--I was howling as "The Descent" turned into a blood-and-guts action film, with scowling leads and strange sound effects from our underground wildebeasts.  But, after giving us a movie that I was intrigued by, I was saddened to see "The Descent" turn into every other movie that I've seen, complete with a revenge plot and a Scream to the Sky (maybe one of the worst in film history).  I was not surprised to learn after the fact that writer/director Neil Marshall also did the awful-yet-bloody "Dog Soldiers", which went straight to the tube here in the U.S. a few years ago.

For $6.50, my friend Danielle and I had a great time howling at "The Descent"; nope, not great, and I'm not even really sure it was buzzworthy, but you will have a good time for 90 minutes in this one if you enjoy gratuitous violence and a camera that jitters so badly during action sequences you almost want to turn away to avoid getting dizzy.  I'm excited to see which actresses emerge from "The Descent" as our next round of British import stars; in the meantime, watch out for that pick axe!

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09