The Descentrecommended viewing

Deep, deep down inside
★★★★★
Released: 
2005
Director: 
Neil Marshall
Starring: 
Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone
The Setup: 
Things go really wrong on an all-female camping expedition. Then things go really, really wrong.
Discussion: 

Movies are always better when one is skipping work to see them. Last Friday, an hour before the day was over, I thought “Fuck it, I am gonna leave and see The Descent!” Yes, indeed, I heed the Rebel Yell. I feel I must mention this because it may affect my fond memories of sitting there watching this awesome fuckin’ movie!

The poop is as thus: Sarah is capably leading a convincingly chilling whitewater rafting expedition, when they meet her husband and daughter. They drive off, have an accident, and hubby and daughter are dead, to say the least. This is like the first five minutes. I think I began to like the movie when it took a minute to show the horror of Sarah’s loss on her, quite successfully, too. Many more Hollywood movies [this movie is British] throw a traumatic event into a main character’s life and just move on like, oh well, so THAT happened. The rest of this movie hinges on Sarah’s anguish, and it does well to let us have a quiet private moment with her to build up our feeling for her later. Okay guys, I’m on board!

One! Year! Later! Sarah is rejoining her friends and making new ones as she embarks on a caving expedition, planned by Juno, Sarah’s hyper-expert friend who was with her at the rafting thing. Juno looks like Lucy Liu a bit and has that same predatory blankness in her eyes; you can tell she’s trouble from the first moment. There is also Holly, a woman new to the group who is all aggressive and “oh, these caves are too easy.” I regret to say I don’t really recall the differences between the other characters. Anyway, Sarah is still grieving and jumpy and having nightmares. She drops that her husband used to say “Love Every Day,” which would make me glare, appalled, at him, but she is all moved by it. Later Juno apologizes for leaving Sarah after the accident so quickly, but she says something to the effect of “you’re not the only one who lost something in that accident.” But let’s not examine! To bed, we’re caving tomorrow!

While we’re sleeping, I will tell you that there are a lot of pointless jump scares in the first 30 minutes. Yet somehow, while not so much enjoying them, I didn’t mind them as much. Maybe because this thing has something you don’t expect in a people-die-one-by-one movie: careful writing! There are characters on hand! And their stories create interest and patience for them that isn’t there in the Freddy vs. Jason’s of the world, not to mention “better” movies. Secondly, WHY does everyone in a horror movie HAVE to have a camcorder? I mean, aside from the “aspirational” element of putting products in front of consumer faces—or is that it? They had one in The Fog [remake], they had one in House of Wax [remake], and a million other movies I can't think of right now. They’re just annoying. Are we supposed to think “oh yeah, I love using my gadgets?” The one here serves a partial purpose, and I appreciate the gesture, but I don’t think it was needed. Oh, and by the way, that camcorder has one bitch-ass battery.

Awake, and time to go on a journey… to the center of the Earth. Juno ominously leaves the guidebook in the car, and their cave is a crevice dropping straight down into the Earth! They go, and are excited to be on such a challenging expedition. They unravel a tiny bit from the pressure, and soon Juno reveals that this is NOT the cave they thought they were in [hence leaving the guidebook], but one that has never been explored. She thought they would all bond by being the first to explore it. They have to head onward—having no guarantee there is anything where they’re going—and are soon crawling through a tiny, claustrophobic, passage—and I refuse to tell you more! The point is they are fucked. Fucked, I tell you.

SPOILERS > > > Hey! And if you want to see it, know as little as possible. We’ll discuss vegetables as you turn away. Okay, so they have to cross this huge abyss, which they REALLY are not coming back from, and move on. Then Sarah sees something. Then the thing she sees is right next to one of them. Then it bites her fuckin’ neck out! So as I was saying, fucked. It would hap that there is a group of white-skinned, blind humanoids from the deep, who are hungry and—best of all—NOT stupid. They’re vicious naked mole-rats as people. The New York Times described them positively as “Iggy Pop crossed with a bat.” [I’ll tell you something else funny, but totally unrelated, from the Times: They once described Clay Aiken as looking like “the love child of k.d. lang and Howdy Doody.”] Anyway, I would describe them as a really big, white, pissed-off Gollum.

There are going to be BIG-TIME SPOILERS DESCRIBING THE END OF THE MOVIE now, so if you haven’t seen it, I command you out. This part is for people who have seen it. You can begin again after the spoiler mark below. Okay, it’s just us! People fight for their lives, blah, blah, blah, but Juno accidentally kills one of the other hikers. We can argue over whether it’s really an “accident,” but I’m willing to buy it. Anyway, chase, chase, chase, get eaten, escape, and Sarah is told by the not-dead-yet woman that Juno killed her, not to trust her. Sarah also sees this pendant Juno had and realizes that Juno was porking [or… getting…] Sarah’s husband! This kind of crystallizes Sarah’s transformation from “I’m gonna do my part,” to “Fuck this shit, I am OUT of here,” and I have to say it is rather convincing when compared to all the similar arcs horror women have had since the 70s. So it goes on to the end, when it’s just Juno and Sarah, and they fight until they see daylight, monsters right on their tail, and then Sarah puts her axe right through Juno’s leg and reveals that she knows about the porking thing. And then she leaves her there to die.

I have to say, I loved it. That she did that, I mean. It’s so refreshingly different to see someone not be all pure and moral and just really get revenge. Someone that we’re totally rooting for, by the way. It’s further complicated by the fact that Juno really didn’t mean to kill the other hiker, and while a good bitchslap would do, I personally don’t think she deserved to die like that. That’s fucking nasty and perhaps a bit unfair. But I loved that Sarah did it.
< < < SPOILERS END, YOU CAN COME BACK NOW.

Aside from the unexpectedly careful writing and interesting characters, I also appreciated this movie for what it DIDN’T do. I was a little worried about how having six female characters would turn out, but was happy that, while there was certainly some bitchery and frayed nerves, no one turned out to be a mega-bitch and they didn’t all turn on each other. For the most part they all continued to work together, and even the ostensible ‘villain’ was mostly only guilty of making really poor decisions. So where the movie could easily have turned into an inadvertent statement that women cannot cope with such situations of their own, it successfully made their gender not so much an issue, and I was glad of that.

Hmmmm, what else? I also like how the focus is on fun. It’s just a fun, scary movie that will give you a thrill ride for 90 minutes, engage your mind enough to keep you interested [unless you are one of those for whom any moment of down time is “boring”], and send you out the door with a little to think about. I saw it with a real fun audience who were laughing and screaming in all the right parts, and had a seat-mate who turned out to be quite an affable presence. If you like good, scary horror movies, I advise you to get to the theater for this one, because it’ll be better there than on video. It’s just so refreshing to have a contemporary horror movie that doesn’t insult your intelligence and rewards your careful attention. While scaring the fuck out of you.

Should you watch it: 

Yes! It’s well written and directed, and really darn scary!