Thursday, February 09, 2006

THE DESCENT: Six Chicks In A Hell-hole

THE DESCENT
(horror adventure)
Time: 103 mins
Rating: * * *
Some of the chicks in The Descent
IN 2002 British film-maker Neil Marshall made his feature debut, Dog Soldiers, which shows a bunch of soldiers encountering huge werewolves in the Scottish highlands. Dog Soldiers turned into a cult movie, and horror fans awaited Marshall’s next feature.

The Descent would not disappoint them. Unlike Dog Soldiers, there is not much humour here but the shocks and gore are piled up so thick that there is no time to sit back and relax. Just a few minutes into The Descent, you will jump out of your seat watching a family on a car trip...

The story is about six female friends who get their thrills exploring caves in the Appalachian Mountains. Well, not the run-of-the-mill tourist attractions, but the ‘extreme’ kind where they ‘pothole’ into mountain openings. Their motto is: If there is no risk, what is the point? When their friend Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) loses her husband and daughter in a nasty car accident, the girls, led by the gungho Juno (Natalie Mendoza) reckon that they should help her to forget the tragedy by going on another ‘potholing’ trip into an uncharted cavern. Others in the group include base- jumper Holly (Nora Jane Noone), Scandinavian half-sisters Rebecca and Sam (Saskia Mulder and MyAnna Buring) and English teacher Beth (Alex Reid).

However, it soon becomes clear that Sarah has not fully recovered from her mental breakdown as she is still plagued by flashbacks and hallucinations. Then, to make matters worse, a rockfall blocks their only way out and Sarah finds herself fighting for her life as well as her sanity. Meanwhile, as terror wreaks havoc on the women, old wounds start to fester and the women find that they cannot trust their own kind.

Now, if you think that writer-director Marshall is content to scare us with a claustrophobic damsels- in-jeopardy tale, you have another thing coming. The girls are not alone. The cave is inhabited by Gollum-like creatures who have apparently adapted to their surroundings. And these sightless beings have become flesh-eaters, preying on the nubile visitors!

Marshall makes good use of his claustrophobic setting, heightening the eerie atmosphere with dim lighting. We get glimpses of the caves and its monsters by the light of torches, green glow-sticks and a video-camera’s night-vision screen. The poor lighting also helps to hide the flaws in the computer-generated creatures and bats. And although there is enough room for character-development, especially of Sarah, we do not root for the adventurers because we get the feeling that they deserve what they get, venturing into ‘forbidden’ territory. Also, the second-string cast do not endear themselves well to the audience. However, there are enough jolts here to make this one a scare-fest for horror fans.

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