Halloween Endurance Test: the Descent (2005)

Every year I try to make my Halloween Endurance Tests a bit more contemporary by watching a few recent films. Generally this has turned out well, with the Resident Evil and Saw franchises keeping hope alive. Sometimes things don’t turn out so well, as my viewing the Ring and the Cavern have illustrated. And sometimes it stops just short of amazing, as it did with the Descent.

First things first, this is the second cave-based horror movie I’ve watched that deals with murderous cavemen. You’d think setting a movie in a cave would open up all of the horrific possibilities. Cave-ins, isolation, starvation, hell, you could have possessed tree roots attacking the spelunkers! Day of the Triffids meets the Cave. But no, we’re again stuck with cavemen.

Scary cavemen, it’s true, but cavemen nonetheless.

The story deals with a group of young, thrill-seeking women. Every year they get together to do something to make them feel alive: whitewater rafting, or, obviously, cave exploration. Two of the friends are bigger thrill-seekers than the rest, and trick the group into entering an uncharted cave system.

See? Right there, without anything supernatural or extraordinary, you have a compelling plot. Friends get trapped, discord goes. Will they remain friends by the end?

Factor in the bad blood between the two main characters, Sarah and Juno, and it’s almost a Lifetime movie! Juno having had an affair with Sarah’s husband. This revenge subplot could’ve just been the plot. Instead it’s practically invisible due to poor direction. According to the director commentary, one errant, second-long glance clues us in to Sarah’s husband’s infidelity.

Except said glance happens three minutes into the movie, before we know who the major characters are, and are thus unable to detect anything inappropriate amongst them.

Nitpicking aside, it’s a solid idea. Caves quickly becoming this generation’s haunted house for low-budget filmmakers. The Evil Dead and Cabin Fever) being a huge successes because they were set secluded from civilization in a cheap locale that the filmmakers could destroy. Here all they had to do was dress up a couple of walls to look like rock, and then recycle them throughout the movie. Rotate them a bit, change the lighting, and no one can tell the difference! Low budget filmmaking at its finest.

Plus, it’s one of the few films I can think of who’s double meaning actually pays off. Its title, the Descent, playing on both exploring the cave as well as Sarah’s growing madness. When Sarah starts her climatic fight with the last of the cavemen, she’s fighting just as savage and feral as they are. The film ending with Sarah dreaming about murdering Juno, before waking up to find herself still trapped on the cave’s bottom.

Leaving us to wonder if the cavemen were real, or just a characterization of an revenge fantasy.

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2 Responses to “Halloween Endurance Test: the Descent (2005)”

  1. I’ve got a soft spot for Neil Marshall films – so my judgement may be clouded a bit – but even after I’ve seen The Descent several times – the feeling of claustrophobia always seems to grip me… It’s scary without the “monsters” – but then make it an all out Alien like creature feature – it’s amazing. It’s my favorite horror film of the past decade by far.

  2. Easily one of my favorites from my 2009 marathon. The only piece I really didn’t like was the whole adultery subplot. I’ve watched it a million times and still don’t understand how we’re supposed to know infidelity’s going on from the glance between the two.

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