Descent (The)
R2 - United Kingdom - Pathe! Distribution
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (30th March 2006).
The Film

I originally caught this film at a 24 hour movie marathon last year (It was also somewhere during this screening, someone in the audience almost fainted and had to go outside) all the films were secret so everything was a surprise, and this film was the biggest surprise. Being a self confessed horror fan, I can be overly critical towards this genre considering my desensitization over the years very little scares the f*** out me anymore. Especially the current crop of horror (if you can call it that) films that seem to resort to cheap scares, obviously lead-you-in-the-right-direction build-up music and quick cuts, these gimmicks are lame and furthermore an insult to any intelligent audience. Which is why if I ever have the chance to meet Neil Marshall, Iíd shake his hand, maybe even give him a friendly hug for creating a horror film thatís actually horrific, has some interesting characters that you care about (yes, itís true) and creating an overall sense of tension and dread which he manages to sustain throughout the entire film without having to cheapen out on us. Nice work mate!
I haven't been genuinely freaked out by a horror in a while, and this was an edge-of-your-seat flick about a group of six female adventurers that go on a caving expedition. Because thatís what hip 20-something British chicks do! They get stuck in an uncharted cave system and discover a bunch of freaky Gollum-looking monsters, called crawlers that begin to hunt them down systematically. Oh yeah, these things are also blind and hunt with sound.
The film doesnít really get going until about 30 minutes in, the director gives you ample time to get to know the characters, six women, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza), Beth (Alex Reid), Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), Sam (MyAnna Buring and Holly (Nora-Jane Noone, who will likely appeal to many different people, I certainly have my favorites. We are provided an opportunity to explore their personalities and of course the usual set-up for the story. Sarah has recently suffered a tragedy, her husband , Paul (Oliver Milburn) was impaled in a car accident, Sarah witnessed this from the passenger side seat. This turned out to be a traumatic experience that hasnít left her the same since. A year later, her friends arrange an adventure trip to explore some caves.
The film works so well largely because of the cave structure the women find themselves trapped in, itís creates an appropriate sense of claustrophobia that provides the drive for most of the tension built up during the course of the film. Marshall utilises several techniques to give the audience a jump. He plays with darkness extremely well lighting these caves practically with whatever the girls have on them, helmet lights, flashlights, flares, fire and glow sticks. Sam McCurdyĎs cinematography is not only realistic but allows Marshall to use the darkness as a tool to scare the viewers into not knowing whatís going to happen around each corner and crevasse. Iíve seen a few horror films with rather impractical lighting that ruins the atmosphere and The Descent took a rational approach to it and managed to pull it off. Sound is also used to maximum effect; imagine being stranded in a dark cave and all you can hear are drips of water, the occasional echo of oneís voice interrupted by the snares and grunts of creatures hiding in the dark waiting to get you. Well you donít need to imagine that, Marshall and crew created that environment with an equal balance of tried and tested movie techniques. Which is yet another impressive aspect of this film, no CGI, thatís right folks a modern horror without the aide of computer generate monsters and all that bulls**t, everything you see onscreen are actual sets (with the occasional extension) and real monster make-up for the crawlers. This makes for a nice change of pace.
Unlike other films in this genre music is something largely overlooked, usually relegated to the standard creepy strings with stab-like effect or heavy metal track, an orchestral score seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur with horror but Marshall resurrects it with a thrilling score by David Julyan that heightens your tension, keeps you on the edge of your seat and creates an appropriate sense of menace without ever pandering to the lowest common denominator. I hate it when the music gives away a scare, let silence do the work, and Marshall knows when to use music and for that I am grateful.
Two major issues I had with this film are the abundance of characters and the reveal of the crawler monsters. While I felt that the dichotomy between these characters were well played I felt that there were too many to begin with. Marshall could have cut two characters out without missing them, or perhaps could have spent time developing them into more defined personalities, at times I couldnít differentiate between, say, Holly and Juno (theyíre basically the same Ďtypeí of person).
I also thought that revealing the crawlers was a mistake, they suddenly didnít seem all that threatening after we had a good look at them, and they also look too much like Gollum. Your imagination can conjure up far scarier things than any filmmaker can throw at you so it would have been best to keep these creatures in darkness only revealing parts of their features alone.
The Descent is one hell of a ride into the depths; Marshall has created a menacing horror film that doesnít resort to cheap shots, and one of the most effective endings Iíve ever seen to a horror film. If youíre a horror fan, if you already havenít you must get your hands on this disc.

Video

Presented in the filmís original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 this anamorphic widescreen transfer is gorgeous. The image is sharp and presents a fine amount of detail, colors are natural and once we get into the caves we are relegated to lighting off of fire, flash lights and glow sticks so often the color palate is of a single color, especially with the glow sticks that make everything green or the flares, red. These colors never bleed which is occasionally happens, especially with intense reds. Black levels are deep and bold, adding depth to the backgrounds and shadow detail is consistent. Overall this is an excellent transfer and perfectly captures the feel of this film.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included an English DTS 5.1 surround track as well as a English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS track. This full-bit rate track is phenomenal and compliments the image exceptionally well. Dialogue is clear and distortion free but the highlight of this track is its infinite depth, atmospheric surrounds and direction effects are utilised to put you right into the cave system immersing you into the filmís world. The sounds perfectly capture the claustrophobic and dark solitary environment perfectly, additionally the music is well mixed throughout the 5.1 space adding further depth to an already amazing soundtrack.
Optional subtitles are also included in English for the hearing impaired.

Extras

DISC ONE:
Audio commentary with director/writer Neil Marshall, and actresses Shauna Macdonald, MyAnna Buring, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder and Nora-Jane Noone. The director and cast, with the exception of Natalie Mendoza who appears to have been absent during this recording, get together to talk about their film in a fairly jovial manner. Marshall moves the track along from scene to scene as the girls reminisce about the preparation and filming and also take time to joke around. Overall this was a very entertaining track that seemed to put more emphasis on entertainment than being too informative. Itís occasionally nice to hear this sort of track and is certainly different from listening to some dry ramblings about scene structure, symbolism and so on.

Audio commentary with director/writer Neil Marshall, producer Christian Colson, editor Jon Harris, production designer Simon Bowles and assistant editor Catriona Richardson. A much more serious technical track is provided with these participants covering almost all the post production aspects and also some design elements while filming. This trackís focus is more informational rather than entertainment, and is certainly worth a listen. The most interesting part of this track was the discussions about the camera movements and lighting, among other things spoken about.


DISC TWO:
The first extra on this disc is the "The Beneath The Scenes" documentary that runs for 41 minutes 18 seconds. The cast and crew discuss aspects of the story, their characters and the horror genre. Director Neil Marshall discusses his love of the genre and also share their favorite horror films. The documentary proceeds to uncover the casting process of the six female leads, learning the climbing techniques, the research undergone for creating the cave sets especially to get a sense of space. We also get a look at creating the dark thematic tone of the film with itís cinematography, as well as some of the practical effects that include make-up, prosthetic wounds and production design elements such as the dead animals, bones etc. Finally we also learn about the inspiration for the cave crawlers and the actors playing them. Overall this was a fairly good look at the making of the film that also included a fair amount of back-patting.

Next up are a series of deleted and extended scenes, there are 9 in total and include:
- In The Cabin which runs for 3 minutes 21 seconds, here we get some additional footage of the girls getting drunk in the cabin, as well as Holly and Sam sharing a joint outside.
- Preparing To Leave runs for 1minute 8 seconds, and just as the title suggests, the girl prepare for their caving expedition.
- Descending Further runs for 43 seconds, the girls climb down a narrow shaft, while at the bottom Sarah and Sam share a moment.
- Finding A Way Through runs for 52 seconds, While Sarah is busy finding a way through the cave, the other girls chat about what happened to her.
- Sam Goes Missing runs for 28 seconds, Sam is though to be missing but turns out sheís taking a bathroom break.
- Crawler runs for 23 seconds and sees a crawler discovering a half-eaten apple left by one of the girls.
- The Chasm runs for 1 minute 33 seconds, Rebecca and Juno argue about whose going to climb across the chasm to set-up a guide rope for the others.
- Juno runs for 55 seconds and sees Juno vomiting after an altercation with a crawler, she breaks down and cries but continues to move on.
- Juno And Rebecca runs for 41 seconds, Rebecca gives up hope but Juno encourages her to move on, when suddenly sheís grabbed by a crawler.

Following that is an outtakes reel that also includes some bloopers, we get some moments with the girls burping at the cabin, as well as some humorous moments including a crawler doing a silly dance and actors having a bit of fun. The reel runs for 5 minutes 14 seconds.

Cast & crew biographies are also included (one page of text providing brief backgrounds) for: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone, MyAnna Buring, Craig Conway, Neil Marshall, Christian Colson, Sam McCurdy, Simon Bowles, Jason Knox-Johnston, Gail Stevens, Nancy Thomson, Tanya Lodge, Paul Hyett and Jon Harris .

A collection of photo galleries are also included. A total of four separate ones that include:
- Crawler concepts 7 images of production art work.
- Behind-the-scenes 25 images of cast and crew during principle photography.
- Film stills 12 images of promotional stills used in the marketing of the film during its theatrical release.
- Meg, to whom this film is dedicated are 2 images of Neil MarshallĎs dog Meg.

Following that are a selection of three storyboard comparisons, this reel runs for 10 minutes 27 seconds and features three scenes that are compared to their storyboard counterparts, the scenes included are the opening rafting sequence, the first descent into the cave and crossing the chasm.

Rounding out the extras are 2 theatrical trailers, the first runs for 56 seconds while the second for 1 minute 1 second. Also a teaser trailer wraps things up and runs for 55 seconds.

Overall we have a decent amount of quality extras, a longer documentary wouldnít have gone amiss. However what we have is adequate.

Packaging

This 2-disc set is packaged in an amaray case with a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A Overall: A

 


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