The Descent is a stiflingly claustrophobic look at daredevil women spelunking together who encounter horrifying gargoyle-like creatures along the way.
As a wife and mother, Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) has a seemingly idyllic life, until a sudden accident rips her family away from her. That sets in motion a kind of healing reunion a year later. Her feisty friend, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), and Beth (Alex Reid) convince Sarah to join a few other friends on a caving expedition--including Holly (Nora-Jane Noone), a butch caver who impulsively does whatever she wants and Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), an overly-cautious climber who needs to map out everything they do. Thing is, this thrill-seeking challenge turns out to much more than they expected, especially when they are trapped and suddenly notice white shadows squirming around them. Not good.
The mostly unknown actresses in this scare fest are all decent in their Descent--and although grappling with one-dimensional characters, the women still manage to convey the suffocating feeling of being confined in small spaces. In the dark, dripping wet environ, they deliver realistic reactions to the horror unfolding around them, which is about as chilling as anyone can imagine. MacDonald, as the long-suffering widow, is a particular treat as she changes from a pitiful whiner to a kick-ass survivor, who exacts revenge in different ways.
Originally released in England, British director Neil Marshall has handed us an appropriately creepy film, which taps into primal fears--dark, claustrophobic spaces, things that go bump in the night--situations we usually see men deal with. So it's quite refreshing to watch women handle it, especially in the way Marshall unravels the female camaraderie as expertly as the climbers tie their ropes. The Descent displays squirm-inducing violence that's not at all white-washed just because there are ladies involved. It's gory and brutal. The scariest moments are often obscured by the dark, and in some scenes, the film resorts to a Blair Witch Project point of view by watching the action through a camcorder. Although this Americanized version has a different ending from the British version (apparently one not so morbid), it's still far better than last year's abysmal The Cave. The Descent will definitely get your heart rate up!
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.