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The Descent
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Are you afraid of death?  Drowning?  Heights?  Tight spaces?  The dark?  Bone-splitting pain?  If you have a fear, writer/director Neil Marshall has found a way to exploit it.  And in doing so creates one of the scariest horror movies of the past 20 years. 

For the first half of the movie, we're given nothing more than a few false leads.  Just when you think Marshall has created a generic film, ala last August's The Cave, the tension starts to build.  First he hits you with the claustrophobia.  Then with the heights.  And then he brings out the monsters. 

With your ass only leaving the edge of your seat to jump in the air over some genuinely creepy and startling moments, you realize that Marshall wasn't taking it slow during the first half to pad the film.  Neil Marshall was showing you mercy before scaring the hell out of you. 

The concept is simple -- Women trapped in cave with monsters.  It's how the story unfolds that makes The Descent something special.  The horror movie is a rarity in that all of the lead characters are female and that they're not mindless bimbos relying on men for help. 

A horror movie with 6 female characters fully-clothed throughout is mind-blowing.  But it doesn't stop there!  The women aren't catty bitches, but they are intelligent.  The women don't make the dumbest possible decisions when confronted with the madness in the cave, but they do stay in control throughout the situation.

It is refreshing to see real women on screen, rather than ditzy Barbie dolls dreamed up by some aspiring screenwriter in his parent's basement.  It was also nice to see a movie where all the female characters are strong and independent, rather than your archetypal Ripley-like character, surrounded by a bunch of misguided women and macho men. 

But The Descent isn't striving to be the Susan B. Anthony of terror.  It's about terrifying the audience without selling them short.  Marshall isn't content to merely give you a slick 100 minute horror ride.  He is that rare director that treats the genre as an art form, rather than a stepping-stone to directing top-grossing romantic comedies.   (Don't let that last sentence come back to haunt me, Mr. Marshall.)

From a woman climbing up a large hill of bones, with only a beam of light showing her the way, to the already infamous shot of the lady slowly emerging from a pool of blood -- there is imagery in The Descent that you won't easily shake.  The kind of horrific stuff that would do Wes Craven, George A. Romero and James Whale proud. 

There's been no shortage of horror flicks over the past 10 years, but The Descent feels like the first real horror film in a long time.  I'm a veteran fan of the genre and no longer scare very easily, but this movie did have me holding my breath a couple of times and had me jumping a couple more.   

The movie is brutal, although the blood in this film seems less gratuitous than what we saw in Hostel.  Or maybe it's just that the blood isn't the point of the film.  The grindhouse sub-genre has its place, but does anyone actually consider it scary?  While The Descent never flinches from showing the audience the carnage, it always keeps suspense and horror as its top priority. 

The only major flaw with The Descent is its ending.  It feels tacked on and cheap.  Something tells me there will be a director's cut with a far better finale than this one, which seems more like something a Hollywood producer would come up with, rather than a talented screenwriter/director

It feels like the ending to a piece of crap like The Grudge, not to a film the quality of The Descent.  Like eating a fabulous dinner at a fancy five star restaurant, only to receive a McDonald's Hot Apple Pie as dessert.  Still, I'd be remiss not to highly recommend the main course to horror fans the world over. 

On the way out of the theater I heard people talking about how they wouldn't be able to sleep for a week, how they never jumped so high in their lives and how they were so scared they felt like crying.  Then they talked about how much they wanted to see it all over again.  This jaded lifelong fan of horror couldn't help but crack a smile. 

When they get it right, it's hard to top the experience of watching a horror movie in a crowded theater.  The Descent gets it right.  And horror lives ... at least until the sequel comes out and we start hearing, "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the cave ..."

Agree? Disagree? Considering Hare Krishna? Email Alex!

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