Monday, October 08, 2007

The Descent

(2006) ***

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.


Octopunk said...

No supernatural? YAWN!

Well, I actually get what you mean, the stuff before the Crawlers show up is special. That scene over the tiny gorge, clawing across the ceiling, God.

However, good as it is, if I thought that movie was just about spelunking, I probably still wouldn't have seen it yet. Not my thing.

Here's my chance to hawk my own review here , but it's very, very spoiler-heavy. I suggest to all that you see the movie first.

I'mnotMarcbutmyboyfriendis said...

I knew ahead of time what was waiting for them in the cave. So when I went into the theater, I needed only to be convinced that they could sell me on the other stuff. From that accident at the beginning, I was hooked.

I was expecting nothing but slime out of this movie, so when it went instead for "sad" I was rather impressed.

And it doesn't half-ass the sad. That first half of the movie makes "grim" and "bleak" its trophy wives.

miko564 said...

The first movie I rented after reading about it on Horrorthon last year was Neil Marshall's other film "Dog Soldiers". I loved it. It was the first time soldiers in a horror film acted liked soldiers...they remembered how to fire their weapons, stayed tactically sound, the movie was great!
I got excited about "The Descent" after reading the reviews and seeing "DS", and rented it the day it came out, and had the exact same reaction as JSP. The caving and girls ability to overcome the terror was great, once the blind miners showed up all the tension went out of the movie.
One more dude siding with the ladies.....

JPX said...

Yeah I'm puzzled about the "complaint". I love when the "monsters" show up, it ratchets an already tense movie to unbearable levels. Also, it was never sold as a movie about spelunking, the commercials at the time clearly implied that they were not alone in that cave. It would be lioke being upset that the movie Jaws has a pesky shark when all you really wanted was to learn about fishing. I still say The Descent is one of the best horror films in the past 5 years.

DCD said...

I knew that the creatures were in there when I rented the movie as well so expected it.
As everyone has pretty much noted - the first half of the movie is really strong. Even the thought of going through all that makes me tense and claustrophobic. I also dug the scenes of the women fighting off the Crawlers as they didn't just pull the "scared female" shtick.
But on the whole I was disappointed. I had expected this to be awesome, it just didn't get there for me.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Lotsa good points here. If I thought it was a pure spelunking movie, I never would have watched it either. Had I known of the crawlers beforehand, I might be singing a different tune, but maybe not.

I don't think the Jaws comparison is fair because that movie is worthless without the shark.

Also, if the Descent was made in the 70's with bad acting and FX, I probably would have loved it. I just think that they did too good a job with the first half, making the 2nd half unable to measure up.