Thursday, October 14, 2010

30 Days of Fright - 13: The Descent

Paintball is great craic. I like paintball as you get to shoot guns and dress up as a soldier and play army in a field or warehouse somewhere. As extreme sports go Paintball is probably one of the more accessible along with skateboarding (though that’s firmly the domain of fourteen year olds and Tony Hawk). I sometimes wish I was better able for extreme sports as I would go off and get Red Bull to sponsor me to piss my life away while I made cheap TV programmes for MTV. However, there are some extreme sports best left to others, as I learned from last evenings outing.

Beginning with a little white water rafting in Scotland, The Descent (2005) introduces a group of thrill seeking women, one of whom, Juno, appears to be having an affair with the husband of another of the group, Sarah. One the way home from the rafting expedition Sarah’s husband loses control of his car and both he and their daughter are killed.

A year later, the women get together in North Carolina to do a little caving. They enter a large cave system and it quickly proves challenging, with Sarah getting stuck at one point and several other difficulties and dangers presenting themselves as the girls move through the system. Tensions mount in the group as certain pertinent details of their expedition become apparent as well as personal difficulties caused by the different personalities rubbing off each other in such close quarters. Sarah is still traumatised by the death of her family so when she suddenly sees something moving in the darkness, her companions are, at first, reluctant to believe her.

Look at this picture

and this one

now this one... what are the torches for?

The Descent is a tough movie to talk about without giving away too much of the story as so much of the action is based on a series of convenient events, most of which are set up early on in the movie and therefore make it quite predictable. For example, one of the girls in the group is a doctor – perhaps her skills will come in handy later on? One of the girls is a reckless type who rushes into things head first -maybe she’ll be in need of a doctor later on? Or how about, the girls find a dead deer on the way to the cave that’s been attacked by something -I wonder will they find out what it was later on?

The predictability doesn’t prevent there being a couple of brilliant moments that make you jump, but unfortunately those moments are few and far between and the other jumpy bits come off as lame when they fail so badly. When the girls encounter what’s living in the cave The Descent turns into an even more predictable creature feature which is sad because at that moment I realised just how good an idea the basis of the film is. Caves can do anything, they can twist and turn, go up or down, be wide and breathtaking or narrow and terrifying, and so on, which is probably why so many away teams on Star Trek beam down into a cave as opposed to an office block.

The Descent is a traditional Hollywood horror where a girl starts off quite fragile and weak, and turns into a double hard bastard as she’s put under pressure. This is standard fare and it’s a shame that things went along such a traditional path as it would have been great to see them mix it up a bit. What would have happened if the doctor was the one who got injured? What if, instead of Sarah the weak chick being the one to see things in the cave, the super tough bitch had seen them? I can only suppose the film would have been shorter, but just maybe a little more interesting.

There’s a lot to like in The Descent, the setting for a start, some of the shocks are excellent, and the action scenes are well done. Also, I could have sworn there was a homage to Predator going on in the final act – all that was missing was for Sarah to yell “get to tha choppa!” for me to be absolutely sure.

I’m prepared to forgive a lot in The Descent due to the fact that you just don’t get to see the entrails of a female character in a film that often, but there’s one big thing that I can’t overlook and that’s the entrance to the cave system. In the movie, the caves are supposed to be unknown and unexplored. How the fuck is that possible? The entrance to the caves is a hole in the ground about fifty feet across and a hundred deep! How come Juno was the one to discover it – all anyone had to do was look on Google maps!

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Descent.


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