Monday, January 01, 2007

DVD: The Descent

• 'British Girls in a Cave' is effective but overrated.

Genres: Horror, thriller, British
DVD released: Dec. 26, 2006
Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Shauna MacDonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone, Myanna Buring
Verdict: &&&

Half a dozen young English women, including one who's "been through a lot," descend into a cave in Appalachia (are they lost?) for a little extreme getaway, a scenario that rightly sounds unlikely and downright foolish, particularly when the ringleader admits a good ways in that she has taken them into an uncharted cave. It's a groaner of a moment, the kind of bad horror film judgment that is all too common and convenient. Fortunately, it's also generally atypical of The Descent, which doesn't play by Hollywood conventions. It's not giving away too much to say that this North Carolina cave is alive with predators reminiscent of the sewer-dwelling fluke man from The X-Files and who make that clicking throat sound from The Grudge. The girls must find their way out while avoiding being eaten alive and coming completely unhinged. Obviously, there's some of the latter going on, combined with a descent into pure survival instinct. A gritty, visceral quality throughout and some shots through night-vision equipment yield a sort of Blair Witch Project quality, and the blind creatures bring to mind Pitch Black. The Descent contains unflinching action that often tweaks the viewer's expectations while making him squirm as he feels the claustrophobia or slimy cave walls encountered by the characters. It also has a couple of psychological jolts that ensure none of the audience is in danger of nodding off. Still, the viewer never really has a reason to care about these girls, though some may find the smart action reason enough to make the journey. I also lacked enthusiasm for the ending, which, in this unrated DVD cut, is the slightly extended European version that is darker and leaves some interpretation to the viewer. // DVD notes // Includes a Dolby Digital EX soundtrack and an entertaining blooper reel. I didn't care enough to watch the several deleted and extended scenes. There's also a featurette, commentaries and an interview with the director.

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