I’m siding with the women on this one, and not solely because Running Freak threatened to knock my teeth out if I didn’t.
So let’s officially add the Descent to our short list of Horrorthon disputes. I had heard nothing but great things from JPX, I’mNotMarc and Octopunk so I carefully avoided all spoilers and had absolutely no idea what to expect. While my disappointment may have partially stemmed from over-anticipation, there’s more to it than that.
The first half of the film is of the highest caliber. The women’s spelunking expedition struck a nerve with me as it’s something I could easily see Running Freak participating in. In fact, if she called me this very moment and told me she’s dangling from a cliff in the Grand Canyon, my reaction would be “That’s nice dear, do you want me to save you leftovers?” Anyway, the magnificent camera work truly captured the sense of claustrophobia created by the narrow passages and lack of sunlight. Early on when the tunnel collapses and they realize that they need to find another way out or die, there is an overwhelming sense of dread in the air. What if you found yourself unable to move forward, forced to spend your last hours in the dark, your dead companion inches behind you? When they survived that ordeal, the drama only increased. What will happen to these girls? Will they start to lose their sanity? Will they turn against one another once the lack of oxygen threatens their very lives?
Then the crawlers come in and strip the movie of all the tension and dignity that had been painstakingly established. A moment ago, I felt as though I were with them in the cave, breathing as little as possible to save precious oxygen. The women were already mentally preparing for their own deaths, so this newly introduced threat only served to throw me back to my couch. Though Running Freak’s Gremlins comparison is a tad harsh, it has merit (though they actually have more in common with the Hills Have Eyes mutants).
If anyone's noticed, I can watch hours and hours of garbage without batting an eye. But on the rare occasions that a horror movie actually connects at a gut level, I raise it to a higher level of scrutiny. Though I despised Open Water for different reasons, the Descent could have been a modern classic if only they followed a similar path and avoided employing the supernatural bullshit.