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[personal profile] innocent_man
The Descent is a horror movie directed by Neil Marshall (who gave us Dog Soldiers, which I'll get to soon). Interestingly, it's an all-female cast (well, mostly), and as such it obviously passes the Bechdel handily. It's also extremely fucking disturbing. Michelle wouldn't watch it with me.

So. The women are friends who meet up to do some extreme outdoor stuff. When we meet them, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Beth, I think (Alex Reid) are white water rafting as Sarah's husband and daughter look on. As the family drives away, they suffer a car accident that kills the husband and little girl (so like I said, it's effectively an all-female cast - the man gets "fridged" early on, for a change). A year later, the women meet up with three more - Becca (Saskia Mulder), Sam (MyAnna Buring) and Juno's adrenaline junkie friend Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) in the Appalachian mountains to go caving. Sarah isn't really over what happened, but she goes along with it, maybe not sure what else to do.

Right away, there's lots of tension. Juno is domineering and clearly up to something, and there are some questions about why she left Scotland so soon after the accident. Holly isn't really connected to anyone except Juno, and she's so risk-addicted that she starts off the expedition being reckless. But the women push on...and find themselves trapped in the cave after a rockslide. And although they made a "flight plan" that will lead people to rescue them if they don't report back, that won't help, because they're not in the cave system Juno said they were. She found a new one, not on any maps, because the other one was a tourist trap.

Now, everything up to this point is pretty standard woman-vs-nature. They're scared and they're definitely in danger, but they're coping and they have the skills to at least try to escape. They're pissed at Juno, but they keep on. The filming here is amazing, and it's hard to watch - they squirm through tight caverns, climb across cavern roofs by jamming fists in tiny crevices, and then Holly falls and breaks her leg. Somewhere in here, Sarah starts seeing little man-like creatures...but she's also been hearing her daughter giggle and generally not coping, so maybe...?

Nope. They make it to a cavern filled with bones that turns out to be a larder for the Crawlers, hideous white cave-dwelling things that attack and kill Holly. The other women scatted, Juno goes nuts and kills one with an ice-knife, and then whips around at a sound behind her and kills Beth. The situation goes from bad to fucked to really fucked in a very short amount of time, and all the way along you get to see Sarah and Juno both become more and more desperate and willing to kill whatever's in front of them. But while Juno is trying to get out, Sarah is just...going away.

The movie is really kind of amazing, in large part because it all happens so fast once the Crawlers come into it. It's nice that there's no time to regroup once that happens - the monsters know they're there, and they just keep coming. Sam and Becca die in pretty quick succession and that just leaves Juno (who's gone completely murderously cold) and Sarah (who found Beth not-quite-dead and had to mercy-kill her, but not before learning the truth).

The performances are incredible from all involved. The US theatrical ending is weak and stupid, but the actual ending (which is on the director's cut version I have) is really the appropriate ending - Sarah staring into her torchlight, hallucinating her daughter and a birthday cake, as the Crawlers get closer.

If I have one complaint, it's that several of the characters (Sam, Rebecca and Sarah) look too similar, especially in the dark and with their heads covered. Juno is played by an actress of Spanish/Filipina extraction, Beth is taller, and Holly's Noone is notably younger than the others, but those other three are kind of interchangeable, and it makes feeling for them a little harder. Casting a black or Asian actress might not have been a bad idea. And although I love monster movies, I do wonder if the movie wouldn't have been just as effective without the Crawlers, just making the conflicts be the cave and the relationship between Sarah and Juno (and Sarah's descent into madness).

Not that I'm complaining; like I said, I love monster movies, and I think this one is really damn skillful.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-low. It's pretty intense.

Next up: Desperado


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