The Descent (2005)

The Descent is the 2005 British horror movie about six adventurous women whose spelunking holiday goes slightly awry. The film combines elements of natural horror, claustrophobia, and a creature feature into an innovative and original flick. Scroll down to see how well Jack thought the elements came together, but not before checking out the trailer below. Unless you’re worried about spoilers, because those happen.

Reviewed by: Jack



 
 

PLOT SYNOPSIS:

The Descent primarily follows Sarah, a woman whose husband and daughter were killed on a rafting trip. I know what you’re thinking, but the rafting part went fine; it turned out to be a freak copper pipe related accident after the rafting. A year later and slightly estranged from her friends, Sarah agrees to a spelunking trip over stateside with four of her closest friends, and one stranger who needs to learn to keep her shit together.

Not pictured: Someone who is cool under pressure.

Not pictured: Someone who is cool under pressure.

The crew embarks on their adventure, but after a tunnel collapses and traps them underground, it comes to light that, while Juno initially told them they were in a well-traveled cave, it turns out that she actually led them into a previously unexplored tunnel system. You know, because there are totally unexplored expansive cave systems in major national parks with large and obvious openings. Totally.

 
You know what? I take it back. This is pretty well hidden.

You know what? I take it back. This is pretty well hidden.

 

As they venture further into the caves looking for another way out, things aren’t quite as they seem. They find some decades and centuries old climbing gear, and start to get menaced by mysterious creatures. The creatures start to pick off our adventurers one by one, except one, who gets accidentally stabbed through the throat by Juno. Eventually, the crew all gets killed off, and though Sarah seemingly makes it out, it turns out she’s dead too (this gets confusing, as there are a couple different endings).


What the Movie Does Right:

This movie immersed the absolute fuck out me. Spelunking is already terrifying. It would be scary enough if the cave just collapsed on them on an unexplored cave system. You add fucking monsters to that mix and I’m freaked right the hell out.

The lighting in this movie is terrific. They use a combination of extremely dark caves and high contrast to make you stare at the screen the whole time to try to figure out if you actually saw that in the background.

 
I could've sworn I heard something . . . ehh, it's probably nothing.

I could've sworn I heard something . . . ehh, it's probably nothing.

 

And the cave itself is awesome too. It’s almost a character in how oppressive it is, cutting off resources bit by bit. The few ‘normal’ (not Crawler) related injuries are fucking brutal. The woman who gets her hand ripped to damn shreds from the rope sliding through it as she’s trying to save her friend is gruesome. The broken leg that happens to Holly later on is squirm-worthy as well. Overall, this thing will have you glued to the screen from start to finish.


What the Movie Does Wrong:

For as simple as the plot is overall, there’s a lot of questionable details. For example, they try to go to the tourist trap cave, because none of them are particularly experienced cavers, but then, in a few different scenes they demonstrate expert-level climbing abilities, like the use of the cams to cross the abyss toward the beginning. It’s not something that I thought about while watching the movie, but it is something that you start thinking about after you’ve taken a step back. Similarly, I brought up that this is supposed to be an unexplored cave system above. Fucking how? There’s nothing left unexplored. Least of all giant and beautiful cave systems close to the road in national fucking parks.

More bothersome was the evolution of the Crawlers. The movie tells us that they can’t see at all because they’ve evolved to live exclusively in this cave. But then there are piles of skeletons of decidedly non-cavey animals on which the Crawlers have been feasting. So the Crawlers leave their cave to hunt exterior prey? How do they do that when they have no sight and have evolved to live only in these caves. Makes no sense. Again, not the kind of thing that bothered me tremendously while watching, but still a thing.


Ratings (1-10):

Story: 6 - Like I said above, the story here is pretty simple, but still quite original. It deserves respect for that. It loses points for the issues I pointed out in what the movie did wrong.

World-Building / Immersion: 8 - There are few movies that suck me in and keep my attention like this movie. Apart from a weird cold-open, I was all the way in throughout the duration of the film, and I was tense and interested for that whole time. For the most part, the issues with the story didn’t pull me out until after I stopped watching, but the other guys say those issues detracted from their viewing experiences.

Scare-Factor: 9 - This is nearly perfect. It’s above-average scary just from the cave scenes alone. But the introduction of the Crawlers is handled so well. You see bits and pieces of them in the back or foreground until bam! They’re all over the place and things feel hopeless. It’s missing out on a perfect score because of some stupid decision by some of the characters which gave me an out for what I would do differently, and because the Crawlers can’t feel a human head below their feet.

Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 8 - The team here did a tremendous job. Almost all of the interior cave scenes (which is most of the movie) were shot on sound stage. That is unreasonable, because they look great. The Crawlers look pretty good too, and they’re not in focus long enough to dwell on any potential issues. The injuries also look fucking gruesome too.

Overall: 8 - This is one of the better modern horror movies, and one of the scarier movies I’ve ever seen. This is a terrific watch, and I would be surprised if this isn’t a classic in a couple of decades. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you absolutely should.