Wednesday, December 27, 2006

oh crap, just finished watching the descent. it is the 2nd feature film by writer/director neil marshall, whose 1st film, dog soldiers, was spot on killer horror cinema. whereas dog soldiers was about a group of soldiers on manuevers in the highlands of scotland who are attacked by a pack of lycanthropes, the descent is a maelstrom into the bowels of the earth.

marshall knows his beloved genre well. this film is the story of 6 adventure seeking women who find themselves lost during a caving expedition. marshall sets the story apace with masterful lighting, darkness and very tight, very claustrophic sets. rare is the horror film that causes dread in me. when watching horror you know very well from the get-go that the situations the characters get themselves in won't be good for their health. it is a matter of course, otherwise there wouldn't be any jolts, or scares within the narrative. this film had me curled into a ball as i watched the women descend beneath the mountains of appalachia.

i didn't catch the cinematographer's name during the credits, but the lighting contrasted with the pitch black darkness, along with marshall's vertiginous camera, lemme tell you this was one wild ride. the breakdown in trust and friendship among the characters cracks even before they encounter the inhabitants of that cave. sounds corny, sure, that there are flesh-eating humanoids in the cave hunting the cavers, but as coleridge reminds us, a good storyteller can suspend the curtain of disbelief. marshall knows the horror genre so well, that he succesfully plants clues along the way to signal the women are not alone and in doing so amps the dread. also the director/writer uses music and ambient sound to increase their effect. a number of times marshall uses that old stand-by of placing the camera just so, so that when something leaps into the frame, i swear, i gasped and jumped like a little girl.

that alone is high praise. unlike feast, which i wrote about glowingly a couple of weeks ago, which was all winks and nods regarding its status as a postmodern horror movie, marshall has made a horror film sans irony. instead he goes straight for the jugular and tells a terrifying tale of madness and cruelty. the women not only lose their way within the cave, not only do they lose their trust amongst each other, they begin to lose their minds. when we find the emotional center of the movie, sarah, at the end of the film, we come to understand what lurks in the dark. and it ain't always things that go bump in the night.

marshall has made another outstanding movie. it is really, in my opinion, one of the best few horror films to emerge in the past 10 years. see it, and be afraid, be very fucking afraid.


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