Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Descent

The Descent (2006) Neil Marshall

I remember this one getting some pretty good buzz around the time it was released, and people seem to mostly feel pretty positively about this one I think, so I decided to give it a shot, it being the right time for a scary movie and all.

It was fine, I liked it.  As my pal Tony would put it, on a binary scale, it's a 1.  The plot is a pretty standard monster movie kind of thing.  A bunch of friends go out to explore a cave because that's what's fun for them for some reason, and they find themselves in perilous and terrifying situations, not the least of which is being stalked by monstrous bat-people.

The all-female cast is notable for being an all-female cast because when does that ever happen in anything?  But as far as the plot of the movie goes, they don't really make a thing of it, which is fine, but they also seem to be fairly interchangeable, with the exception of our main girl Sarah and our counterpoint Juno, who are lucky enough to be imbued with archetypal personalities of reluctant tragic hero and hubris fueled villain, respectively.

The Descent is straightforward and lean, offering the bare minimum of character revelation/development, in service of pushing ahead to create a platform for Neil Marshall's keen eye for violence and a very specific kind of terror.  The movie does very interesting things with light and darkness and colors so the overall look of it is engaging, definitely a big achievement for something set almost entirely in a pitch-black cave, but the scares are more haunted house-esque, preferring a quick jolt to make you scream and push you forward to the next set piece.  Rarely ever do we get that pervasive sense of dread that my favorite horror movies bring to the table.

I think that part of the reason for that is in the nature of the setting.  Something like Halloween is scary largely because it could happen to you in your own neighborhood.  Halloween is the kind of movie that you watch and absorb because of your familiarity with the setting and with the people, and because of that, when the movie's finished, you're scared to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  You're scared about simply being exactly where you are.  The Descent has some genuine scares, but it is hampered by the fact that it is set in some remote, undiscovered cave.  None of this would have happened if they'd just stayed home.  I think that horror movies that end up being the scariest to me are the ones where the threat would have come to you no matter where you are.  The Descent's dependence on its exotic setting, while creating a very specific atmosphere of fear, also works against it in that the fear is limited to that setting.  Once the movie is over the terror is over for us because honestly, how many of you are going spelunking without a map?

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