I will be honest when I started to watch "The Descent" I wasn't expecting much and other than a predictable yet shocking car crash I thought this was going to be a long slog. But then it struck me, because the longer that "The Descent" goes on the more horror we get and it turns into what is close on a master class in horror. We have horror from fear, we have horror from broken bones, we have horror from danger and of course we have horror from the Crawlers, the underground predator which we meet over two thirds of the way in. It means we get surprises, shocks, gore and violence each of which is delivered with expertise and atmosphere, you could say because "The Descent" includes such a variety of horror it is almost the complete horror.
A year after a car accident which saw her husband and daughter die, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) reunites with her friends Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid) who along with Becca (Saskia Mulder), Sam (MyAnna Buring) and Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) are having a girlie weekend. But not any sort of girlie weekend because they are thrill seekers looking to go spelunking in some caves in the Appalachians. But when an incident leaves their path back blocked they discover Juno has tricked them into exploring yet unchartered caves and somehow they are going to have to find a way out. Not only that, they are not alone down there as they soon discover strange creatures that live in the dark.
As I already said the start of "The Descent" seems a bit dull, oh there is the shock of the car accident but to be honest that is telegraphed although what you see will throw you back in your seat. And to be honest when these 6 women meet up for their adventure weekend it feels like padding, stretching the movie out to make it over 90 minutes. But then it gets good with the first layer of horror as are 6 women descend into a hole and we watch them make their way through tunnels. Watching Holly squeeze through a tunnel barely big enough to take her is surprisingly frightening, as is a scene a little while on where they have to navigate across a sheer drop. It may not sound like horror but because there is a real sense of danger to what they are doing it is quite tense.
But that is just the first layer of horror and then we get the next layer as various incidents leave a couple of them hurt, hands ripped to pieces by ropes and a bone protruding from a leg after a fall will certainly make you sit up and pay attention. It is another form of horror which leads to the fear factor of dying deep beneath the surface with no way to get out and with limited equipment. Throw in the fact they find ancient equipment from previous climbers adds to the tension because they know that it must have belonged to people who never got out or else the cave would have been named.
Now for some horror fans this may seem a little mundane because there is a trend for more visual gore based horror but writer and director Neil Marshall delivers on that as well. By that I mean the Crawlers, the underground predators who attack are women causing them to fight for survival. I won't say much on this other than to say these are scary beings with a ferocious attack which when combined with the women fighting to survive delivers both action and in your face horror, but clever horror.
Now a big reason why this all works is because Neil Marshall delivers bucket loads of atmosphere. A scene which sees them enter a cavern carpeted in skeletons of dead creatures is ominous as is a scene featuring an underground pool of blood. Add to this the various lights, we have torches, flames, flares and snap lights all dispersing different colours all of which create even more atmosphere. It is a case that Marshall delivers a master class in how to do horror, not just one sort of horror because for every in the face moment of gore there is a shock, a moment you can sense something bad is coming yet when it does it still makes you jump.
My only criticism of "The Descent" is that for me the characters are not defined enough. So we have Sarah as the pivotal character, it is her husband and daughter who died and as we are aware early on there was something between her husband and Juno. But once everyone gets down into the caves it is harder to distinguish with the only one really having any character is the plucky Holly, wonderfully played by Nora-Jane Noone.
What this all boils down to is that "The Descent" is a pleasant surprise because it manages to deliver horror for everyone. It borders on being a master class on how to deliver in your face horror with classic shocks as well as fear factor and so much more.