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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 16.67%
Average: 13.44%
Pretty Bad: 5.38%
Total Crap: 1.61%

13 reviews, 108 user ratings

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Descent, The
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by MP Bartley

"People, the message is clear: never go outdoors!"
5 stars

How should a film critic review a horror film, in particular a great one, like 'The Descent'? It's much like trying to review a comedy without spoiling the jokes, as you try to tell people how scary it is without telling them just why. But I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to tell you just when to expect certain scenes that will get you shrieking and peeking through your fingers at the screen. I'm not going to tell you just which of the characters can and can't be trusted. I'm going to try and make this review as spoiler-free as I can, because I guarantee that going in knowing as little as possible, will mean that 'The Descent' will fry your nerves and give you the most purely horrifying two hours even the most jaded of horror fans will have ever had.

Meet Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza), Beth (Alex Reid), Sam (Myanna Burning), Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) and Rebecca (Saskia Mulder). Six friends who share a love of adventure sports and have decided that for this summers escapade, they will go cave exploring in the Appalachian mountains. Sarah is feeling a little fragile at the minute, so her best friend Beth is along, mainly to look after her. Juno is the spirited, if over-bearing, leader of the group and Holly is her unpredictable, on the edge protege. Sam is the medical student and youngest of the group whose mothering elder sister is Rebecca. Soon, one of them will have stabbed another in the throat and one of them will have her skull smashed open by one of her companions. And the rest of them? Let's just say it's not pretty.

Welcome to 'The Descent'.

Because down in the caves, these women will find something waiting for them in the darkness. I'm not going to say what, apart from it's not werewolves. Because this is certainly not 'Dog Soldiers'. Whereas in that film you had six squaddies banding together to fight off a common enemy, here Neil Marshall takes a totally different approach. Here, when the claustrophobia kicks in, the girls bicker, fight and generally don't pull in the same direction meaning a bad situation gets rapidly worse. Much worse.

And while 'Dog Soldiers' is a wonderful blend of horror and comedy, Marshall again takes a different road and succeeds just as confidently. There's no warm and snappy banter here, just a grim and desperate fight for survival. This results in what is probably the best out-and-out horror for years. If 'Dog Soldiers' brought to mind 'Aliens' this is 'The Thing' meets 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'.

Even in the first hour, when we don't see or know what is waiting to feast upon the unlucky ladies, Marshall ramps up the tension to queasy levels. As the girls squeeze through gaps Paris Hilton might find a tight fit, Marshall pushes his camera into every nook and cranny, and right into the panicked faces of the protagonists. This is a cinematic experience that will have the claustrophobic amongst you desperate for air yourselves. And although it won't happen, 'The Descent' should be the first on the list for the Academy's consideration of best production design. The caves here are a wet, dark, dripping nightmare with no light at all apart from the lights the girls themselves bring. Huge chunks of the film are cast in near darkness, meaning that anything could be lurking in the shadows. And frequently something is.

It would have been so easy for the tone of the film to fall flat between the tense and foreboding first half and the creature-infested second. But it doesn't. Once the creatures do arrive, the film tightens into full-blown, blood-drenched horror. Legs are splintered, eyes are gouged and heads are smashed. And the less said about a nasty case of rope burn the better...

'The Descent' shows just how well Neil Marshall knows horror, and just how much confidence he has as a director. From the relatively simple cottage setting of his debut, he really pushes himself here and nails every target he reaches for. Fights are shot upside down, in the water, with several intensely-crafted sequences of terror that will have nerves rattling long after the credits have rolled. Marshall knows exactly what he's doing, setting some scenes up so you just know something's about to jump out at you, only to feint and get you with a sucker punch you just didn't see coming. And you know how people say 'Carrie' has the greatest 'jump' of all time? There's at least two moments here to rival it. I don't scare too easily, but I unashamedly yelped out here AND nearly crushed my girlfriend's hand.

His cast are also excellent through and through with Macdonald, Mendoza and Reid the standouts. It's further testament to his writing that we get an immediate feel of the dynamics, rivalries and tensions between the girls just through looks or small parts of dialogue. There's a huge history between two in particular that we can all recognise, and that you just know in the hands of a lesser writer would have required a long dialogue scene that isn't needed to spell it out.

But the film has no desire to slow down for unneccessary character moments. It has one aim, to frighten you remorselessly, and it achieves that aim without respite.

With his two features, Neil Marshall gives further credence that he's the new Sam Raimi. One of his films is a horror/comedy best viewed on a boys night in with beer and pizza, while the other is an exercise in pure fear. If 'Dog Soldiers' gained a cult following in America, then 'The Descent' will certainly got more people sitting up and taking note, provided it gets the release it certainly deserves. And if it does, then expect a Hollywood studio to come wafting a big wad of money Marshall's way with his pick of projects. Hopefully Marshall's undoubted skill as a horror director, won't be neutered if Hollywood does come a-calling, but for now just take the long, dark descent into hell that he's offering right now.

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originally posted: 07/20/05 00:42:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2006 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantasia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/21/20 Louise (the real one) Absolutely terrifying & involving. This is how a good horror film should be. 5 stars
2/24/18 Mitch The most claustrophobic I've ever been lying on my couch. 5 stars
9/12/17 morris campbell good scary monster movie 4 stars
6/27/15 Quigley One of the most intense horror films I've ever seen. 5 stars
1/07/14 Martin This movie does horror right, and in so many ways. See all endings, original one best. 4 stars
1/31/13 Charles Tatum Claustrophobics might add a star; good stuff 4 stars
1/13/12 matthew Thompson Dalldorf I will never enter a cave after seeing this 5 stars
5/15/11 stephen nettles AMAZING 5 stars
1/23/11 millersxing runs the gamut of gore with girl power 4 stars
7/16/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess At least as scary as a night in a shark's gut. At least. 5 stars
1/20/09 Camilo Espinoza Excelent 5 stars
11/26/08 Leo T fun, loads of good parts to startle... 5 stars
9/10/08 Borat Amazing horror movie 5 stars
4/16/08 Pete Chesworth Excellent film very creepy 4 stars
3/09/08 sumixam Really good, surprisingly so 5 stars
6/16/07 al smith nerve shreddingly tense amazing 5 stars
6/09/07 Danielle Ophelia Everything--the atmosphere, the exponential dread, the characterization--felt right. 5 stars
4/27/07 Total Crap It's "Kill Bill" meets "the Cave". This is a really cool movie. 4 stars
3/28/07 Mike Shady Awesome movie. totaly recommend it. 5 stars
3/27/07 bobb really cool 5 stars
3/01/07 THE REAL DEAL Predictable and a peice of crap. Go caving some time retard. FU Cornelius 5 stars
2/28/07 CARLENE HAYTON I expected more but I liked it! 4 stars
2/25/07 Dave One of the best horror films in five years or so. 4 stars
2/23/07 Weblynx Ok, scared me and entertaining 4 stars
2/10/07 Heather Watched with hands over eyes. Sign of a pretty scary movie! 2 stars
2/06/07 Indrid Cold Not so scary, but the psychological aspects make it an extremely satisfying thriller. 5 stars
2/05/07 Shobert O-V-E-R-R-A-T-E-D 2 stars
2/03/07 tony i like the way that nora jane act she's hot 4 stars
1/28/07 David Pollastrini The first scary movie to scare me in a long time! 5 stars
1/26/07 kris Better than average, some psychology. Hot lead girl. The US version ending is worse. 4 stars
1/14/07 Roxanne Meadows Yep, character are unlikeable and surface and underground geologies don't match! 2 stars
1/11/07 Tracey Chambers great movie. shows that anyone can become a killer given the right circumstances 4 stars
12/28/06 action movie fan a truly scary gorefest-above average horror film-has ture scares 4 stars
12/27/06 Spencer this movie rocked the first time I saw it and now it still makes me jump! 5 stars
12/05/06 Shawna Ride So-so gore happening to unlikeable characters; mostly a waste. 2 stars
11/28/06 Garkain sleep through the first have, then you have a great movie 4 stars
11/25/06 I-K Took long enough for this to hit Aussie cinemas... the wait was worth it 5 stars
11/22/06 jdean62 Hmmmm hard to say... for this genre it was good...but should have waited for the DVD 4 stars
11/19/06 Noel A great film, one of the most entertaining in a very long time!! 5 stars
11/18/06 Deon Smelt i think the decent is a great film i just carnt stop watching it after the first time 5 stars
10/25/06 Drew G OK, could have been much better 3 stars
10/23/06 Steve Newman I loved Dog Soldiers - thix ie even better 5 stars
10/19/06 nhlanhla it i a brilliant movie but i dont really understand da ending did she make it or is she sti 4 stars
10/09/06 Donna Gelpigi Has some surprise plot twist, but it gets drowned out in the sloppy gore overload! 2 stars
9/28/06 Yoali It was perfect last week. i was alone at home... i didn't sleep! 4 stars
9/27/06 matt it was ok, some nice gore but could have been scarier. 3 stars
9/12/06 Rob Excellent movie instant classic 5 stars
9/04/06 bobby b it will keep you at the edge of your seat 4 stars
9/01/06 Mary Beth succeeded in being extremely unpleasant 1 stars
8/27/06 cindy excellent !! 5 stars
8/26/06 M. Mirliss Utter brilliance in a genre that desperately needed it. 5 stars
8/25/06 --- Note to aspiring horror directors: This is EXACTLY what a horror film should be 5 stars
8/24/06 Teresa Saltos The monsters within the women were as scary as the monsters in the movie. Excellent film, 5 stars
8/24/06 Dave One of the best horror films in a long time. 4 stars
8/22/06 G Sherfy Scary? I think not. Use the first half and chuck the last "Gollums in a cave" half. 3 stars
8/20/06 Kaline totally sitting on the edge of your chair covering your eyes 5 stars
8/17/06 Pn. Everything was fine until the cawlers showed up... 3 stars
8/17/06 Loball Wow, total crap, horrible movie, corny plot, corny movie overall...only good if you suck 1 stars
8/16/06 DAVE einfach nur geil 5 stars
8/15/06 CJ Two-dimensional, dumb characters and a story full of holes. Overrated. 2 stars
8/13/06 Harold One of the most overrated movies of all-time! 1 stars
8/12/06 Jessica W. One of the best horror films I've seen 5 stars
8/10/06 Mase Not only the best horror movie of the last 10 years but one of the best of they year! 5 stars
8/10/06 Elisa Giro Aha! Is this film an allegory to the true meaning of ketchup? 3 stars
8/09/06 Doreen Hayes Loved it!! Great scary movie 4 stars
8/09/06 Mansi Dido Good fun. 3 stars
8/08/06 jcjs fun, blood, gore, cheap to make, entertaining, rocks, slime, yummy blood, scary, actioncraz 5 stars
8/08/06 tox GREAT! The whole theater was SCREAMING. And it was mostly adults! Very high tension movie. 5 stars
8/08/06 Frenzy very scary 5 stars
8/07/06 Agent Sands Decent horror flick save for wishy-washy cinematography and corny exposition. 4 stars
8/06/06 mek what the hell happened at the end 4 stars
8/06/06 Mike I'm in pure shock over how overhyped this was. This was just low budget crap. VERY let down 2 stars
8/05/06 Evil Wolfie Made me laugh... but that might just be my sick sense of humor... 4 stars
8/05/06 Ole Man Bourbon 1/3 scary, 1/3 boring, 1/3 crap. It's not that great. It's "decent." 3 stars
8/05/06 TiGrBaLm good gory action but didn't scare me at all 3 stars
8/02/06 lee Great ending (UK version) 5 stars
7/29/06 Nightjorn If this is as good as it gets...well...that's pretty sad for horror. 2 stars
7/14/06 Louise Great horror trip! Full of blood, guts and bone! Not for claustrophobics! 5 stars
7/08/06 Jambi The glowing reviews are absolutely head-scratching. Nothing special here. 3 stars
7/08/06 ES An ending that disappoints, standard effort from a marginal director 3 stars
7/06/06 stevo simply outstanding 5 stars
7/04/06 Dan Floreigh Loved it! Simply LOVED IT! Taught me to stay out of holes! 5 stars
5/22/06 Paul Lanner Super Scary! 5 stars
5/20/06 Frenzy Great horror 5 stars
5/07/06 Ramin Najjar What happens at the end? 2 stars
3/25/06 Alice I was also a bit disappointed, it was not THAT good.. 5 stars
3/21/06 Lazlo MASSIVELY overrated, not scary, DON'T believe the hype...huge disappointment!!!!! 2 stars
2/18/06 Ole Man Bourbon I screamed once, but was bored most of the time. 3 stars
2/10/06 David Anyone else find that "Juno leg-stretching" scene in the hut sexy? 4 stars
1/29/06 Laura Excellent in every way, to be particularly enjoyed by gore freaks like me. 5 stars
1/28/06 xtc the hype is no lie. See it in theaters with the sound cranked. 5 stars
1/26/06 Carlos I saw it 4 times. 4 times I was scary as hell. amazing 5 stars
11/24/05 Kevin O'Toole What a fantastic film! Creates an atmosphere which lasts long after the film is over! 5 stars
11/12/05 Vince One of the few horror movies which is ACTUALLY scary. 5 stars
10/30/05 Bob Had me peeing my pants 5 stars
10/25/05 chris fox (the god) a good film 5 stars
10/11/05 Heather Reid fantastic scary film 4 stars
8/29/05 Kenneth Clark Good for Saturday afternoon if you're not doing anyghing else 3 stars
8/15/05 .:*paris*:. OMG its like sooo scary deff a buyer,watch it with your m8s!! 5 stars
8/13/05 Jut Wow! another fantastic british film 5 stars
8/12/05 ES The cave is likely a rip-off of this, movie entertains but confuses 3 stars
8/12/05 A Carr Great! I watched most of this threw gaps between my fingers 5 stars
8/11/05 Mark Andrews Simple premise, wonderfully executed 5 stars
7/29/05 Nicole extraordinarily scary movie - strong women 5 stars
7/28/05 Laurabetty This film made me scream out loud in the cinema!! utterly terrifying!! 5 stars
7/28/05 Luke Akrigg Easily the best horror of atleast the last 15 years. 5 stars
7/28/05 Lee Kernan Best horror film Ive seen in years, a truly great genre film... 5 stars
7/26/05 Mark Barraclough Remember the time you saw the scariest film **EVER**? You will when you see this. Awesome! 5 stars
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  04-Aug-2006 (R)
  DVD: 26-Dec-2006



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