59: THE DESCENT (2005)
DIR: Neil Marshall
For horror fans, Neil Marshall's second movie (after soldiers vs werewolves debut Dog Soldiers) offers fantastic value for money. It is essentially two knuckle whitening horror movies for the price of one, served up in just 95 minutes of your time.
After twenty minutes of setup, acquainting us with the all female cast of characters, with whom we are about to spend the next hour in the dark of an unexplored system of caves, the first of these horror movies begins in earnest; a tense journey through the caves, during which Marshall continually raises the stakes with claustrophobic scare sequences, injuries and the revelation that the girls are not in the cave system they thought they were in.
After about 40 minutes of that, the film explodes into high gear as it becomes a terrifying and brutal monster movie, featuring truly scary creature design, splashy violence and some truly iconic final girl imagery. Okay, so it's not the most original horror film you'll ever see, but Marshall arranges the elements so well that the jump scares work every time (even on subsequent viewings). In fact, one scare in this film, for me, is just about as good a jump scare as there has ever been in a movie. It happens the first time you really see a 'crawler', and it makes me have to catch my breath even now (you can see it below in Standout Scenes).
However, The Descent isn't just a scare machine. The characters are broadly written, but well played by Marshall's all female cast, with Shauna MacDonald standing out as the initially nervous and frightened woman who finds unexpected reserves of strength (and gets a final girl shot so cool it deserves to rank with Sissy Spacek covered in pigs blood, in a film we'll discuss later in this list), but while the performances are good, it is the photography that really impresses here.
The Descent was shot on a set, but Marshall and DP Sam McCurdy make the environment feel very real (and very threatening) through their use of camera and lighting. There is little cheating the light here, most of the cave sequences are lit with torches, infra red cameras, lighters, glowsticks or some other available source of light. Obviously as well as adding to the verisimilitude, this allows Marshall to have his monsters use the shadows effectively, and means that the dark itself, even when there's nothing in it, becomes scary.
It's not the smartest film on this list, but The Descent is a fun, frightening ride, with something for every horror fan from creepy 'what's that in the background' moments to unbelievable tension (the collapsing tunnel) to good old fashioned ultraviolence. What's not to like?
"What the Fuck was that?"
Our first proper look at a 'crawler', and it's fucking scary.
I'm claustrophobic, so this sequence in which a tunnel collapses, threatening to trap one of the girls inside, is one of my worst nightmares.
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