Better Than It Has Any Right To Be
From its cliched set up to its cookie-cutter group of teenagers at the heart of the story, The Descent has no right to be as good as it turns out to be. A combination of tense, atmospheric horror with masterful lighting effects make The Descent one of the better horrors to be released in recent years. Much like 28 Days Later, The Descent takes an aging concept and reinvigorates it, updating the formulaic ideas of old whilst adding a dash of originality to make it a pretty impressive horror.
The story builds slowly, with Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) leading a group of friends on a spelunking trip in an unexplored cave system whilst on holiday. Things inevitably don’t go to plan and a series of unfortunate events leads the group to become trapped underground. With dwindling supplies and panic threatening to consume the group, someone or something lurks in the shadows. The films builds slowly, with plenty of questions raised around the sanity of the group as the film builds toward a blood-soaked, crazy fight for survival. This exhausting pace ends on a suitably ominous and thought provoking note as the film closes that’s surprising profound for a horror of this calibre.
The premise itself is certainly creepy and plays on the tense atmosphere and claustrophobic setting of the caves. There are some pretty creepy moments, especially early on during the film’s slow build, and the constant sense of dread that hangs over much of the picture really helps The Descent stand out. Some of this is helped by the lighting which does a great job capturing large swathes of darkness over almost every scene whilst keeping just enough light on the actors actors to keep them the central focus in every frame. It’s a clever move and one that, for the most part, works to give the film a technical edge over other horrors in this genre.
The characters are inevitably forgettable though and with the exception of a few key players in the group, the rest of the cast fail to inspire. Sarah’s troubled past coupled with a slightly jarring opening actually does a great job setting her character up as slightly unhinged with her relationship to Juno (Natalie Mendoza) really helps propel her character.
The Descent may not be the best horror out there, especially the way its blood-soaked finale eases up on the atmospheric horror built early on, but there’s no denying the film does a great job reinvigorating a genre in desperate need of some originality. Excellent lighting and a masterful use of tension helps sell the concept and after watching The Descent, you may just think twice before embarking on that spelunking trip.