Six Chicks With Picks - The Descent - 1/13

After a December of unusually warm weather we’ve finally been hit with our second snowfall of winter. This one wasn’t too bad – four inches – but the freezing rain that accompanied it made travel to and from the Saturday Night Freak Show this week a bit hazardous. Oblisk and Clark Kent went out for take-out after the movie and nearly skidded off the road into certain death. Baygean slid into a stop sign on her way home. Ensign Kim was smart enough to stay home in Freeport, rather than make the one hour drive to our house.

Our inaugural feature of 2007 was The Descent. A British film originally released in the UK in 2005, The Descent made landfall in the US via Lionsgate at the end of summer 2006. The thing that strikes me about these release patterns is that the hardcore horror audience for movies like this has no doubt seen it via overseas DVDs. At the Flashback Weekend convention we attended last year, ample copies of the UK DVD were readily available, even while Lionsgate reps handed out posters for its upcoming release.

The Descent takes an all female group of six extreme sports enthusiasts and drops them down into the bowels of the earth where their worst nightmares consume them. The cave diving trip is headed up by Juno (Natalie Mendoza) for the benefit of Sarah (Shauna MacDonald), who, one year earlier, was involved in a horrific accident that claimed the life of her husband and young daughter. Shortly after their expedition begins, a cave-in blocks their exit and the group find themselves having to push forward into uncharted territory with only their flashlights, picks and climbing gear for survival. Before long, they begin to realize that they are not alone in the darkness.

This basic scenario has the makings of a perfect horror film. Caves and basements and labyrinthine underground corridors have always provided pure nightmare fuel. The cast of six women provides a welcome relief of obligatory sexual tension (much like Carpenter’s The Thing). Sexual tension between characters is replaced with Freudian imagery with women crawling through wet, slippery tunnels and preyed upon by cannibalistic naked men (the monsters are pale, blind & toothy evolutionary descendants of a doomed expedition nearly 100 years earlier – echoes of Gary Sherman’s English cannibal thriller, Raw Meat). It’s also telling that motherhood is a central theme of the film, with Sarah still coping with her daughter’s death. Late in the film, as the women shift into survival mode, Sarah must kill a feral child and ultimately deal with the revenge of its ferocious mother.

Director Neil Marshall previously helmed the fast paced action/horror hybrid Dog Soldiers. Here, he eschews the humor and playfulness of his previous horror outing with something far more primal and fearsome, achieving a sense of claustrophobia, isolation and psychological decay even before the monsters show up. Like his previous film, he does throw in some references to other movies (the aforementioned The Thing and Raw Meat, also Deliverance and Apocalypse Now), but the method of reference here is more visually and thematically than outright nods & name dropping.

The American version of the film ended abruptly approximately one minute earlier than the full English theatrical edition, in order to supply an artificial jump scare. The original British ending, while bleaker, is more fitting and preferable.

Needless to say the movie played like gangbusters to our little group, scaring the living hell out of especially Trixie and Baygean – more so than I’ve witnessed with any horror movie we’ve watched in the basement theater (and we’ve seen our share). Deservedly, The Descent ended up at the top of many top10 horror films of 2006 lists.