The Descent is fine once they get into the cave, but it’s never a good idea for B movies to try to evoke feeling for their monster fodder characters. It’s enough if you just don’t hate the people, but when you have the pretense to think you can turn a group of plot functioners into moving characters, it reeks of a schlockmeister with no skill at emotion.
The Descent Movie Review
The opening of the film presents totally amateur filmmaking. A river rafting scene in chopped up close-ups shows that they had no sense of blocking or creating a visual flow. An impending collision is so obvious it’s stupid. It’s good and violent, but they might as well flash a sign saying, “Look, they’re not watching the road!”
Trying to construct scares before the main action of the cave feels forced. A hallways darkens bit by bit as the lead runs away. That’s not actually scary. That’s a filmmaker saying, “Look, isn’t this creepy? The lights go out in order. Boo!” It’s not an organic construction of a scene that manipulates you. They’re just throwing something in.
All of this leads up to the six ladies bonding over beers, stating facts that are supposed to make them unique. There’s a med student, an adrenaline junkie, and plenty of relationship complaints. They’re all supposed to be helping Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) through her personal tragedy, but they’re just pretty girls going into a cave. Nobody’s going to cry for a woman who lost her family at the beginning of a monster movie. We didn’t know them. Just go fight the monster.
Once they go exploring, The Descent picks up. The caves look real, at least like they’re not on a soundstage somewhere. Very real tensions ensue with cave-ins, blind navigation and injuries that have to be dealt with as a group. It’s pretty stupid that the leader left the guidebook at home, an update on the Blair Witch lost map syndrome, and even sillier when they reveal the actual “purpose” of the expedition, but by then they’re in such dire straights that you’d still want them to get out.
At that point, you almost don’t want any monsters to come mess up this survival story, but the monsters add a cool tension too. Even though they look like Gollum and follow the rules from Pitch Black, the idea of the gang having to fend off monsters while they find a way out keeps things highly paced.
It’s nice and bloody, full of squishy sounds and visible bones. There are enough surprises to elevate the plot slightly, and the girls look hot covered in blood and sweat.
Every once in a while, they still come back to B.S. emotion. One character says, “We all lost something in that crash” and it sounds like a soap opera line. What exactly did the two friends and three strangers lose in that crash they weren’t there for? Okay, I’ll give them the backstory of mourning the victims, but it’s established that they weren’t there for Sarah, so it’s no time to start comparing tragedies.
The actors are most convincing when they’re just screaming. We’ll believe that they want to get out of this mess, but when they try to get deep, it’s the Open Water syndrome. Just react and it works. Don’t try to create the drama. You’re no match for nature or the monsters.
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