Review: The Descent (US Version, 2005)

descent2

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.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill Thompson

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8 responses to “Review: The Descent (US Version, 2005)

  1. Is it possible, within the internal logic of the film, that Juno’s death was “deserved,” not because she killed Beth, but because she left Beth to die in a horrible way, and then lied about it to the others?

  2. I still don’t buy that as a reason, because the initial act of killing Beth shocked Juno as well. She couldn’t handle accidentally killing her friend and so she took a natural course of action, she lied to try and assuage her own guilt over the accident. That would also explain her leaving Beth to die, as would the situation they were in. Juno couldn’t save Beth after stabbing her through the throat, and as bad as it may seem at that time her energies are best directed towards saving herself and the rest of the group.

    However, I do think that what you described is what the director was going for, and wanted to set up, but I didn’t buy into the way he did it, so it didn’t work for me.

  3. I’m trying to remember – wasn’t it established eventually that the one who killed Juno actually found Beth still alive, and therefore, recognized that Juno had traitorously abandoned Beth?

  4. Bill Thompson

    The main character, Sarah, found Beth alive and found her clutching Juno’s arrowhead. I think Beth then uttered something along the lines of don’t trust Juno. Sarah decides then and there that she needs to get revenge on Juno.

    Now, this becomes problematic for me because that implies that Juno hacked Beth on purpose, when everyone knows it was an accident. It also implies that somehow Juno should have performed triage and nursed Beth back to help right then and there with no supplies, no light and murderous cave dwellers trying to killer her. I don’t think that should have been expected of her at all, and that’s why I have problems with the way the film handled Beth’s actions and Juno’s death.

  5. I’m not disagreeing, but I’m trying to see what I’m missing. To me, it seems the motivation for killing Juno is not that she accidentally wounded Beth, or that she failed to nurse her back to health, but that she abandoned her, still semi-conscious, presumably to be eaten alive, so that (1) she could save her own hide, and (2) she wouldn’t have to tell Beth’s long-time friends that she had accidentally hacked their friend in the heat of battle.

    On top of that, was it Juno that was responsible for bringing them to the cave mapless in the first place?

  6. Bill Thompson

    Yes, it was Juno who brought them to the cave mapless, and they also established that Juno had been having an affair with Sarah’s husband. You are correct that the motivation for Sarah to kill Juno was that in her eyes there was some basic cover up and attempt to save her own hide on the part of Juno.

  7. Well i have watched the descent and i really liked it; its dark, bloody, moments really scary and brilliant- a real refreshment comparing to other horrors. Maybe the best horror i have seen after the Ridley Scott”s masterpiece(Alien). The ending is a bit strange, with Sarah injuring Juno, blaming her on everything they went through. Although Juno slept with her husband, accidently killed Beth and dragged them to the caverns, didn”t deserve that spike in her knee. I liked the characters and my grade from 1-10 on this movie is a hard 8. I really like your website Bill and i hope it will go on far in the future. I wish you all the best, greetings from Croatia. P.S. sorry for my spelling 😉

  8. No worries about your spelling Spaya, it’s just fine. 🙂 I suppose it’s a matter of perspective as to whether Juno got what she deserved. While I wouldn’t actively wish for violence to be delivered to her, it’s hard to question that there was a sense of justified revenge in what happened to her.

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