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2006 - 99m.

This has been a difficult review to write. In fact, I wrote a great review only to have a wicked combination of accidental deletion of all the text followed by a poorly timed auto-save. Well, here I go again in an attempt to do justice to one of the best horror flicks to come out in recent memory. The thing that makes The Descent so special is that writer/director Neil Marshall completely understands the genre and more importantly the need for good characters and solid pacing. All of the elements to make a great horror film are present and it is like Marshall threw them all into a crockpot to create the perfect stew. Intense action? Check. Believable characters? Check. Nail-biting suspense? Check. Disgusting, bat-like humanoid creatures? Check. Gore? Check. A great score? Check. Scares? Check. All of the ingredients are present and this will be looked back on as a horror classic.

A group of six friends get together a year after one of them has suffered a tragic and devastating loss. They are all adrenaline-junkies and decide to go on a caving expedition as a way to reconnect and enjoy an exciting adventure together. The ringleader Juno (Natalie Mendoza) has planned the excursion but has taken some unnecessary risks in an attempt to give the group an unforgettable experience. These risks include leaving the map in the car which leads to the group being trapped in the underground cave system after the entry path in blocked off. The rest of the group includes the fragile Sarah (Shauna MacDonald), the sensible schoolteacher Beth (Alex Reid), the quiet yet tough Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), her newbie sister (MyAnna Buring), and the loose cannon (Nora-Jane Noone). These characters all have their own moments of triumph and, in some cases, failure, and make for a fantastic ensemble cast. After a series of excruciating moments where the group attempts to find a way out of the cave, the movie goes to another level when they realize they are not alone. In fact, they have found the lair of a brood of flesh-eating, pasty creatures that are like the sick mutation that would occur if you combined the Templar knights from Amando De Ossorio's Blind Dead movies with Bat Boy.

This movie kicked my ass. The level of tension elevates as each moment goes by because even if the ladies can manage to evade the carnivorous predators that are hearing every move they make, they still need to find a way out of the cave system. Knowing this at all times made me want to start smoking again as I was getting so stressed out. The viciousness of the creatures adds even more pressure as these are not smart animals but screaming, bloodthirsty freaks that are driven solely by the instinct to eat. They come flying of nowhere and the only thing on their mind is to kill and feed. Knowing that one of these things could be waiting in any section of the cave is very unsettling. On top of all of this, the stress eventually gets to the group of women and they start questioning each other and infighting making the situation even more dire (although this does lead to some of them becoming closer).

Too often these days, we see movies and directors being mismatched which is part of the reason why so many horror flicks are disappointing. I believe that to make a good film, the filmmakers need to be enthusiastic about the end result and not just making something to jump-start their career (Samuel Bayer, A Nightmare on Elm Street remake) or trying to relive the past (Wes Craven). Neil Marshall does not suffer from either of these symptoms as he obviously has a love of the subject matter and every film comes out like a movie that he would like to watch himself without pandering to what he thinks modern audiences would like. He reminds me of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez in this way. This dedication and refusal to compromise shows in this work and I believe that Marshall has a long career ahead of him if he continues to stick to his guns and create original, exhilarating, and entertaining films.

Followed by a sequel. (Josh Pasnak, 8/23/11)

Directed By: Neil Marshall.
Written By: Neil Marshall.

Starring: Shauna MacDonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder.