Monday, August 20, 2012

A Review: The Descent

"I'm an English teacher not fucking Tomb Raider."
There is a darkness to this movie combined with it's perfect, expansive and finely detailed set construction that adds a certain level of authenticity it deserves. I was happy to feel, at times, like I was in that damn 2-miles deep down cave system with the girls. Director Neil Marshell achieved his desired effect of claustrophobia, insidious pressure and atmospheric strain in his Brit-Horror flick to a good effect.

Sarah, Juno and Beth are whitewater rafting in Scotland, then, boom, Sarah's life comes to a halt. A year later, we see her in North Carolina with Beth and their driving through the Appalachian Mountains for a spelunking trip. Unfortunately there not about to find the Batcave. No, something else lurks down there.

They are heading down by Juno, cave diving and cleavage expert. Because apparently, when you dive, you still need to show off your attributes, a lady never knows when she'll meet a gentleman. Marshell evidently worked hard with the girls to give them all a good familiarity with the diving attribute, we almost feel like they know what their doing. And before long, we're scratching, crouching, jumping, stopping for apple-lunch breaks and swinging over deep abysses two miles down.

After a while, it's known to the girls that Juno, has decided not to take them to the planned site, and their now exploring an unmapped cave. She has no idea how to get out any tells the girls the only way up and out is down through. They are less then thrilled to hear that. Before long, the headstrong Irish diver and self-proclaimed "sport fuck only" earnestly gets to ahead of her and gets herself injured. Welp, that's what happens. And it doesn't take long, schlepping her about, until Sarah feels there is something else down there. Or, is it the lights they have? And the darkness and must and moisture playing tricks on her? The angry and tension is laid down well by Marshell.

Once the second act starts to take over, and the things that go bump in the cave emerge with angry hungry and growling, gloppy mouths, I guess that's our pay off? I'll admit things really get bad for the girls as panic sets in they might never get out. Well, we all have Captain Cleavage to thank for that, she was hoping they could name it after Sarah, she says. Cave Sarah? Okay, sure. I'll let that one slide.

The sets used, all 21 caves settings, were filmed in the famed Pinewood Studios in England, and were constructed with great care by Brit production designer Simon Bowles. We feel the weight of the cave crushing in on the girls. We almost feel as if we're down there with them, in the never snake's way of mazery, darkness upon flares, upon headlamps, upon cloddish girls and their search eventually for an exit. The steam, the heat, the dripping water that never ceases and the moisture in the air reminding the girls there is atmosphere, but not the kind they want.

The twists, turns, tight holes and large gaps inside leaves us thinking what's ahead, and what's behind. Paired with David Julyan's (The Prestige) while timed and suited score and we've got some real good elements on our hands.

In contrast to my words, I am a horror fan, not a loyal one, but a fan. And maybe, holding this up to the light against a master craft of bizarre suspense and stomach squeeze terror with Kill List, reviewed just yesterday, it's like switching from motorcycle to a dirt bike? But this one has elements that are well placed, thoughtful and inspired by Marshell who worked hard to make this American, fast-paced and dumb. Marshell show signs of that thought-process in Dog Soldiers, and here we get that more refined in a slow build that ratchets up the suspense and tension only little by little, The Descent understand that before you unleash the fear, you must set it deep within us. Even if the fear is a large group of vampire lookalike cave dwellers who fest on raw meat. Which I only got so far with.

This has bits and pieces in the third act that try and keep it together as far as fear goes, but that fear forgoes to the consequences of the story, which, as it turns out, was well penned and executed by Marshell.

Forgetting this is a British horror and that's where they all come from, I probably wouldn't recognize any of these actress, knowing a lot have stayed over there, so as not to say their all not worth it either, or poor actresses, I suppose. So many I should cram it up my ass? But I'll un-cram this sentiment.

But, usually, an insightful director can take a bad performer (or character from the script) and make them a brilliant one if they have the skill set, motivation and if they are so inclined. Too bad for the girls here, some of whom have flashes of something well bred in their craft, director Neil Marshell was not so inclined.

Chemistry--the girls together as friends and dialogue exchangers--have none. They hobble through the script's initial playfulness between them in the first few scenes like Acting 1 student plucked from a community college, forcing friendly nature and girl talks before they set sail and make their "descent." I understand the film's goals weren't for the likes of  The Babysitters Club; and so I'll give the first twenty or so minutes a pass. But, it was still annoying to sit through none the less.

For all the girls out there, I'm still wondering what we have with Sarah, who turns out to brave, fearsome and  headstrong. Is this the scenario that is supposed to jolt her back into her former, or new, self? Do we care about what happened in the beginning, and the revelation we get in the third act I saw coming from the beginning?

Others might have thought it added character weight and depth, but that cheap ploy means diddly to me. I'm not and never will be the sort of film analyst who will tell you not to go and see something. A film, bad or great should be watched and judged by the individual, and this has merit as horror. So go enjoy. The greens of the gel lights and reds of the flares, the oranges of the headlamps, and seeing the dirty faces of the pretty girls in the extraordinary cave system alone is worth it. Cinematography was pulled off nicely by Sam McCurdy.

I was glad to see a cave that had real personality to it, and made me think twice about going through one, guide and group-a-girls or not. Maybe I'll zip down my top just a tad, and see what kind of local attention I'll receive if I get lost. Worked for Juno.

Munki out.

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