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  Descent Review
Tookey's Rating
6 /10
Average Rating
7.25 /10
Shauna MacDonald , Alex Reid , Natalie Jackson Mendoza
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Directed by: Neil Marshall
Written by: Neil Marshall

Released: 2004
Origin: UK
Colour: C
Length: 100

The Descent is the first of two movies in Summer 2005 about potholers running foul of bloodthirsty monsters: the other is The Cave, due in August. On the face of it, this looks like a coincidence, but it may simply reflect the extent to which mobile phones have permeated our society. Theyíve rendered anachronistic an entire subgenre of horror films where people became at risk with no help of outside help. Nowadays, wherever you are, your mum is only a phone call away.No wonder film-makers are discovering one of the last frontiers that mobiles have yet to reach Ė underground.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Three years ago, British writer-director Neil Marshall made a silly but moderately successful movie, Dog Soldiers, in which British squaddies were eviscerated by werewolves. It was an extremely violent, self-consciously jokey flick in which most of the cast ended up with their entrails draped outside their bodies.

The Descent does for female spelunkers what Dog Soldiers did for squaddies, though with less humour. This has the advantage of making the film a much more intense and scary experience. Potholing is nasty and dangerous enough, but add in flesh-eating mutants, lashings of gore, and a heroine who may or may not be going bonkers after the extremely nasty death of her husband and small daughter in a car crash, and this is not a film for the faint-hearted.

Most ultra-gruesome horror flicks these days attract no more than a 15 certificate. This has an 18 and deserves it. Throats are torn open, legs are smashed, eyes are gouged. This kind of thing is not my idea of a great, or even good, night out, but millions will disagree, and here they certainly get their moneyís worth of gore.

Films like The Descent are not about acting. All the same, Shauna MacDonald cracks up effectively in the leading role of Sarah, who - as she becomes more and more blood-spattered - resembles a more toned version of Sissy Spacekís Carrie. And Alex Reid (pictured), playing Beth, the schoolteacher who is Sarah's best friend and therefore doomed from the outset, confirms the unusual promise she showed in 2002ís The Honeymooners. I look forward to seeing her some day in something where she isnít butchered.

Donít expect to be able to tell the other four actresses apart, especially after they have been attacked a few times, and the blood is starting to bubble and spurt. Thereís little depth of characterisation, and even less originality of plot Ė though the trick ending is quite neat, and sneakily disturbing.

Itís easy to see how this might have become as involving as John Boormanís Deliverance, the classic film about sensation-seekers finding more excitement in the wild than they had bargained for. The reason The Descent doesnít attain those heights is that the six girl-friends arenít carefully delineated, and the action sequences are not as character-changing.

Marshall always goes for the easy shock, not the deeper jolt that accompanies character revelation through action. And if thereís any comment on society here, or women, or potholers, I missed it.

But for those who like this kind of simplistic horror action Ė essentially, itís a gruesome, low-tech version of Aliens, with all the characters trying to be Sigourney Weaver - the movie delivers. Much of the film was shot on sets in Pinewood Studios, but youíd never know it. Itís strong on atmosphere, and very well paced.

I suspect The Descent will turn out to be Neil Marshallís passport to Hollywood. I only hope that once he ascends to that eminence, he wonít be content merely to become just another purveyor of violence, mayhem and instant gratification. He clearly has the talent to do better. Letís hope he also has the inclination.

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