I bought a cheap copy of Neil Marshall’s The Descent at Newbury Comics the other day and, from the reaction of the dude running the register, you’d’ve thought I just bought gold covered in chocolate. Or chocolate covered in gold: “Oh, God, this is the best movie. Have you seen it? You haven’t? Oh, you’re going to love it! Yeah, there’s the sequel but — I don’t think it’s as good. Yeah, definitely see this first…” And so on.
Now I actually bought this movie because I was sick of only the sequel showing up on Netflix. I don’t know about you but I try really hard not to watch sequels first. I’ve done it occasionally out of horror movie desperation, but I’ve always regretted it.
But lets get to the point: the Grand Unified Theory (or GUT) of Neil Marshall (based on two movies and therefore in no way generalizable and produced only for entertainment):
A. The man has no idea what real blood looks like.
B. He has a very generous estimation of the abuse the human body can take and survive.
C. He really doesn’t know what shock looks like — except when he does, and then it’s startlingly good.
D. He’s very good at the sudden reveal scare — except when he’s not, and then it sucks ass.
The Descent was a disappointment. I bought it expecting an above-average monster movie with a nifty cast; what I actually got a was a well-below-average monster movie with an “eh” cast. But nice scenery.
Yes, the all-female cast was a unique aspect to the film but I can’t say that in and of itself makes the movie more watchable or any better although I had been led to believe that it kinda did. It’s interesting as a movie fact; that’s about all you can say for it. Oh, and the screaming is in a generally higher register than it might otherwise be.
Potential spoilers follow.
Your basic plot: heroine is suffering from trauma and grief due to having survived an auto accident which killed her husband and young child. Friends band together to create a yearly wilderness outing to bring their grieving friend back to some semblance of a normal life. Wilderness outing goes horribly wrong. Group is lost. Monsters descend. The band of friends blows itself apart — as such groups are wont to do, apparently — and much death ensues.
So far, so basic.
My problem is that there isn’t anything here by way of unique characterization or interesting group dynamic or even real plot tension to keep the thing going forward. Okay, so it’s a group of all women instead of all guys or a mixed group. So? And? Now what? There basic character types that tend to be women in horror movies are still all here: there’s the slut, the studious girl, the good girl, the sisters, the sporty girl… there’s nothing different going on here. They’re just all a little older than they might otherwise be. Yes, okay, I was glad that the script never got to the point of desperation where the whole “You slept with my husband and therefore distracted him and therefore he died in a horrible, horrible, ironic car accident!” had to be said aloud but perhaps saying it aloud would have given the actresses a little something to sink their teeth into rather than just wandering around the edges of it.
And the monsters? Oh, dear God, the monsters. They’re pathetic. Really. Seriously unscary. And they don’t make sense which is even worse. A little basic research on the structures and habits of cave-dwelling creatures might have saved the screenwriters from looking like idiots. Hell, Gollum makes more sense than these sods.
And, Mr. Marshall, do you really think I’m going to lose my shit over a cave full of bones and a gooey pond? Well, it ain’t gonna work and I’m vaguely insulted by the suggestion!
And one of the the only interesting moments — “do I kill my friend to save her from being eaten alive?” — took place then, too, and I was so pissed off by then that I couldn’t even respect it as a moment.
So, if you have nothing better to do with the next two hours of your time…well, personally, I’d say watch A Very Supernatural Christmas twice before I’d suggest you watch The Descent.