A bunch of chicks go down a hole and wish they hadn’t. That’s pretty much it, when it comes to the plot of The Descent.
But this movie isn’t about plot, or story, or fascinating and unexpected twists, it’s about some chicks…who go down a hole.
The gals in this thing are a bunch who like to do dangerous things for fun – white water rafting, cave diving, Black Friday sales, that kind of thing. In other words, a pretty stupid bunch of women who think a cheap thrill is worth risking their lives for. But one, by the name of Juno, is especially dumb. She has decided to explore a previously unexplored cave system – without telling the other women. Yes, the other gals think this is just a regular caving thing where you go in one end and come out the other. As it turns out, the especially stupid woman is so stupid she doesn’t even know if there IS a way out of the cave other than the hole they went down! Not only that, but she didn’t take on the task of telling the authorities about the trip herself but instead left it to one of the other women – despite having told said woman that they are going down cave A when they are in fact going down cave B! So now the girls are trapped in a cave with something nasty and even though the rangers or whatever will soon be looking for them they will be looking in the wrong cave! Oh, dear…
Anyway, soon after our girls go down into the cave they get hit by a cave-in that blocks the only certain way out. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, hey? This scene is actually one of the scariest and most distressing in the movie as most of it involves one of the girls getting stuck while crawling through a very narrow passage. The sense of inescapable confinement is downright horrific, worse than a Poe story about being buried alive. At least there is some small chance that if you are strong enough and tough enough you may be able to dig your way out of a grave. But with 100s of tons of rock above you? Forget about it! I tell you, i am no claustrophobe but i was damn glad when this scene was over!
So now our gals have to stumble around in a dark hole looking for a way out of this mess. That’s bad enough, but on top of that one of them starts to see things – gnarly things that are kinda human but kinda not and which crawl up walls, hang from ceilings, and have really bad personal hygiene. The other women don’t take her seriously, obviously, but eventually the nasty critters make themselves visible to all and before you know it they are chowing down on anyone they can grab and the girls are fighting for their lives against a screeching horde of woman-eating monstrosities while trying to find a way out of the ninth circle of hell. This section of the movie comes too late for my taste – about one hour in – but contains some truly great “suddenly there” moments. You know the kind of thing i mean, where the filmmakers do such a great job of misdirecting your attention that when something nasty pops up on the screen you literally hit the ceiling – or at least shout out, “Bloody hell!” loudly enough to scare the crap out of the neighbor’s cat.
Once it starts to really take flight, The Descent becomes a full-on blood and guts kind of affair, with lots of fighting and bleeding and killing and being killed. Like i said, it ain’t Citizen Kane plot-wise, but what it does it does extremely well. I guess i should point out, for those who care about such things, that some attempt is made at adding psychological depth to the doings with the predictable revelation that Juno done messed around with one of the other women’s husbands. This turns out to be very bad news for Juno, but she’s the stupid cow who got them into this unholy mess so it’s not like i was reaching for the Kleenex. And there’s something about the cheated-on woman’s husband and daughter having died a grisly, impaled-through-the-head kind of death, and her grief, and some visions of her dead daughter, and her worrying that she might have left the iron on and so forth. Unnecessary, in my view, but it doesn’t get in the way. Which brings me to the rather amusing possibility that this is, basically, about a bunch of women who go down into a gigantic you-know-what and get into various personal conflicts that are symbolized by the creatures around them. One might even go so far as to say that this is about a bunch of women finding the evil within themselves and being done in by it. One might, but one won’t. Or maybe one will.
The movie does have a couple of flaws, though. Other than the unfashionably late arrival of the monsters, there is also a vaguely irritating Sporty Spice clone. This chick, an overexcited, reckless “action girl” stereotype, sticks out like a sore thumb, especially given that the other women – with the near exception of the bitchy bitch who causes all the trouble – are much more well-rounded characters. It’s like someone took a bunch of real women and threw a cartoon character into the mix. Fortunately, though, the annoying little thing gets killed first – just as i had hoped. The other thing that irked me was the ambiguous ending. I hate that kind of thing. Kill her or don’t kill her, but don’t leave us wondering. Other than that, The Descent is one of the best horror movies of the last twenty years, and guaranteed to scare the bloody crap out of pretty much anyone but the most jaded of horror fans. Hell, it scared me, and i am pretty jaded myself…