Creepy caverns and damsels in distress ahoy!
Written By: Neil Marshall
Directed By: Neil Marshall
Horror is a genre that I love. I’ve loved it since the first horror flick I ever saw, Friday the 13th, enraptured me with its delivery and pacing. Unfortunately as the years have gone by I have become more and more disenfranchised with the horror genre that I love so much. At some point both the writers and directors within the genre lost sight of what makes horror so great, the suspense. The focus nowadays is on the gore, the shock, the craving to not scare the audience but to make them uncomfortable with what they are seeing. There are still some in the horror genre that are making what I consider great horror, and Neil Marshall is one of those individuals. For the first hour and fifteen minutes The Descent is a tour de force in how to make a great horror movie. The focus isn’t on the monsters, they aren’t even seen, the focus is on the need for survival and how that can be the most horrific endurance of all. Also included was deep characterization that has all but disappeared from the modern horror film as well as a look at the depth that human emotion can reach. The first hour and fifteen minutes provided all of these things and The Descent was well on its way to being a great movie, then the last half hour happened.
The Descent spirals out of control in those final minutes, losing grasp of its intentions and its message. The meticulous character building and claustrophobic feel that highlighted the first two acts are dropped in favor of chaotic death scenes and a muddled ending. The worst moment comes in the comeuppance handed to the character of Juno. Yes, it is implied that she slept with Sarah’s husband, and in the heat of battle she did accidentally kill Beth. But, that doesn’t make it righteous when Sarah wounds her and leaves her for dead. For some reason Mr. Marshall decides to treat Sarah’s actions against Juno as a triumphant act accompanied by her equally triumphant escape from the caves. Up till that point The Descent had been building the ideas of friendship, bonding and ultimate redemption. Sarah’s actions in the end went against what had come before, mainly because of the weight and tone they were given by Mr. Marshall. The final thirty minutes of The Descent aren’t terrible, but they are far below the standards set in the first hour and fifteen minutes.
The original UK theatrical showing has a different ending, one that supposedly fits far better with the tone of the movie. Maybe it does, I hope to find out someday and to let you know. As it stands the US version of The Descent is an earnest entry into the horror genre, but it could have been so much more.