When The Descent was first released to theaters, I was a lowly popcorn sweep at a local cinema. During some slow evenings, I would quietly watch at the side of the theaters, hidden in the shadows. It was the best spot to watch the audience and The Descent was one of the best movies to check out their reactions. I saw people jump, scream, and cover their faces cringing at the terror on the screen. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the entire film in theaters, but alone on my couch on a sunny morning. Some of my reactions made those squirmish people in the theater look brave.
The Descent is about a group of adventurous British women. The film opens with a white water rafting trip. While the actual rafting is a success, the ride home ends in tragedy for Sarah (Shauna Macdonald). A year later, the same trio of friends, plus a few new ones, get together to explore an Appalachian cave. They seem competent and confident in their spelunking abilities, but soon things start to go wrong. And in the darkness, lurks creatures that are waiting to attack.
This may be one of the very few films around that stars only women and makes them all very badass and strong. The night before their cave exploration, they hang out in their cabin, but it’s not a stereotypical girls night in. They drink beer, smoke, cuss and don’t braid each others hair or have pillow fights in their underwear. When trouble arises, they’re rightly scared but do not crumble. The whole story could be the same if this were a group of men, and I love that.
Alone in my own home, I have never felt so ridiculous and scared. Anyone who doesn’t jump at all to The Descent has either seen it too many times or lived it. There are a lot of very tense moments in exploring the cave that had me on the edge of my seat in fear and anticipation. Other moments just scared the shit out of me. At one point, I jumped to violently I knocked my laptop off the couch. Never done that before; it was amazing and so fun!
The Descent makes excellent use of darkness and small spaces. Once deep inside the cave, the only light sources are the helmet lights, flashlights and the occasional flare or glow-stick. There is so much around the characters that they cannot see, at one point that delivers one of the biggest shockers. Some of the passages the women shimmy through are ridiculously small. The camera gives us perfect vantage points to see how tight and narrow some places are. It gave me a very nerve wracking feeling of claustrophobia.
One creative way to show us more terrors in cave is the use of a handheld camera, on night vision mode. In pitch black moments, one of the characters will hold the camera and see the surroundings on the screen. At one point we discover that they are walking over piles of bones. The best camera moment is a very up close encounter with one of the cave creatures.
I love caves and before seeing this movie, I would have gone spelunking in a heartbeat. Mind you, the amateur kind, with a tour guide and all, but still. After The Descent, being in a cave screams bad idea and nightmares to boot! The tight passages and risk of cave ins feel all too real and claustrophobic. Even though you can tell me there are no creepy albino monsters lurking around, I’ll still see them creeping in the darkness.
“Hey, there’s something down here…”