April 10, 2006

The Descent

Theatrical poster for The Descent

I only got to see one film in this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival, and luckily it was damn good. The film is a UK horror movie called The Descent—from Dog Soldiers director and scribe, Neil Marshall—and screened as part of the Danger After Dark showings.

On the surface it bears a similar direction to last year’s snore-fest The Cave, which also follows a group of explorers’ and their misfortunes underground, but it’s quite un-sporting to compare them much after that because The Descent outclasses it in every way possible (and made it to theaters before The Cave anyway). What follows is a beautifully dark and claustrophobic spin on a typical monster flick that will chill you straight through. The film is so successful because at its core, it’s so simple. There are no drawn out explanations or monologues; Marshall doesn’t serve up tripe and trusts the viewers to connect some pieces on their own. It also doesn’t hurt that the direction and low-light cinematography are absolutely gorgeous.

In the effects-laden and music-ramp-ups-to-a-scare that are typical of most horror films these days, it’s refreshing to often be caught off guard by The Descent, as many times the screams come entirely without warning. The end of the film didn’t find me at the edge of my seat because I was glued to the back of it, trying to get even a few inches further away from what I was seeing. Perhaps it was mild claustrophobia, or a fear of being trapped underground (a fear I guess I never really knew bothered me), but this movie got my heart racing. I haven’t squirmed and jumped from my seat due to a horror movie in a long time. Best of all, the whole theater was doing the same thing. It got us all… and it was simply terrifying.

I write this not so much as a review but more to urge you to see it (which is why I didn’t really write much else on what it’s about). The film is supposed to come to US theaters sometime in August, and was released on DVD in the UK last November. Plain and simple, The Descent is a monster movie done right, and definitely one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in a while. Highly recommended.

Commentary (27):

1. Mike Whitehurst says… apr 10, 2006 | 11:06 am

That’s a long time to wait, i’ll see it if I remember!

2. Natalie says… apr 10, 2006 | 11:45 am

Well! I think I’m scared enough by your review… back of the seat, huh? That might be too much for me. 8’O

3. Kate Bolin says… apr 10, 2006 | 11:52 am

That’s November 7th of last year — they have a special edition out in the UK now.

I’ve had a copy of it on DVD for about a month now, and I think I know what I’ll be watching tonight… Especially since I loved Dog Soldiers.

4. Jason Santa Maria says… apr 10, 2006 | 11:57 am

Kate Bolin: Whoops! Thanks, you lucky Brits :D

Make sure you watch it with the lights out…

5. David Barrett says… apr 10, 2006 | 12:37 pm

I saw it in the cinema with some friends of mine. Fantastic film.

The frights had their edge dulled by two guys sitting below us who, at the second real scare, shouted “JAYSUS!” and jumped into one another.

6. Michael Heilemann says… apr 10, 2006 | 12:47 pm

I saw it yesterday. Scared the shit out of me!

7. Jen says… apr 10, 2006 | 12:56 pm

I saw and loved Dog Soldiers. Can’t wait to see this one and your “review” makes it that much more appealing.

8. Wade Winningham says… apr 10, 2006 | 1:10 pm

I’ve been looking forward to this movie for a while. I was just able to track down a copy of Evil Aliens which looks pretty good, as well. Also from England.

9. Rob Weychert says… apr 10, 2006 | 2:01 pm

Best horror movie I’ve seen in ages, and the best thing I saw at the Philadelphia Film Fest this year too (I do have two screenings left tonight, but I don’t expect either to trump The Descent). I’m glad you were able to climb out from under your pile of boxes to see it. :)

10. Alex says… apr 10, 2006 | 2:13 pm

I loved this movie. But it really did send the chills down my spine, I won’t say too much for risk of spoiling it for those who haven’t saying it.

I loved the ending though!

11. Bill says… apr 10, 2006 | 4:34 pm

Just watched the trailer. Oh man, gave me chills.

At first I thought this was a movie based on, The Descent, a book I read several yrs ago. Nope, this is probably even better. Now just have to wait until August :(

12. Tim says… apr 10, 2006 | 5:35 pm

I saw this movie a couple of weeks ago (Belgium) and I’ve experienced the same things you did J. At some moments it’s a littlet predictable (when the high violins come in), but still, it scares the sheisse out of you! I esprecially liked the end, no way in hell you could see that one coming!

13. maartin says… apr 10, 2006 | 6:10 pm

As a horror movie fan I have to agree. One of the best for a long time.. and manages to keep the suspende right to the end. Loved it.

14. Ian Muir says… apr 10, 2006 | 8:28 pm

This is one of many good reviews about this movie I’ve read. I’m really stoked to see it, but I’m disappointed that I have to wait until August.

15. bandelin says… apr 10, 2006 | 10:26 pm

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I found it fairly boring. I downloaded a dvd rip a few weeks ago (lol?) and while it keeps its integrity intact, I wasn’t terribly interested in a bunch of crazy lesbians getting - well, I won’t spoil the fun. However, if there was more nudity and at least one kenny loggins song I would have given it a more favorable review.

16. Jason Santa Maria says… apr 11, 2006 | 7:42 am

I’d wager that it’s also much better in the theater (in the dark on a really big screen). You also hate 90% of everything, Bandelin :D

17. Martin Hodgson says… apr 11, 2006 | 8:18 am

I thought it was a decent film, much better than I thought it was going to be. Although the ending wasn’t as expected!

If you like the horrors Jason, have you seen Wolf Creek yet?

Def one of my fav horrors of recent times and would recommend it.

18. Jason Santa Maria says… apr 11, 2006 | 10:18 am

Martin Hodgson: I haven’t seen Wolf Creek yet, but it’s on my list.

19. bandelin says… apr 11, 2006 | 2:24 pm

damn you and your valid points!

20. Jim Callender says… apr 20, 2006 | 8:21 am

sounds good, cant wait to get the blood curdling with this horror shocker!! :))

21. Lucas Everett says… apr 21, 2006 | 3:35 pm

If you have a region free DVD player, you don’t HAVE to wait for it. :)

22. daniel says… apr 30, 2006 | 12:57 pm

Very good jason!

23. Rami Najjar says… may 6, 2006 | 4:29 pm

I did not understand the end. Can you explain it to me?

24. Becki says… jul 29, 2006 | 2:44 pm

I really dont understand the ending either…can someone tell us whats going on.…whats with Jessica and the cake??

25. John says… aug 11, 2006 | 10:24 pm

I saw it yesterday, and it was a great film. The storyline sucks a little bit, but it is a movie with a lot of action, even bloodier and nasty than SAW I, SAWII and Hostel combined.

But still, please, somebody explain the ending! Who the hell was the woman at the end? And why did she throw up?

26. Tony Geer says… aug 27, 2006 | 12:23 pm


John, the woman at the end was Sarah, the lady who lost her husband and child at the start. Check out imdb.com for a thorough discussion about the endings because the UK and US versions were a bit different.

27. Bob says… sep 22, 2006 | 7:54 am

Check out the South African website - www.thedescent.co.za for some more scares…