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The Descent - by Neil Marshall

Monday 12 December 2005

What pleasure it gives me to discuss with you the major anxiety attacks that I endured while watching The Descent...

The movie begins in what could easily be a documentary about extreme sports. But quickly - and I mean very quickly – it makes way to the gory images that one would expect from the movie posters... Hence, Sarah (interpreted by the Scottish actress Shauna MacDonald) sees both her daughter and her husband disappear from her life in a very nasty car accident. Her two best friends deal with this problem in very different ways: Beth adopts an almost sisterly approach, while Juno - for reasons that become clearer during the movie - remains very distant and, for almost a year, keeps out of Sarah’s life.

And so the story takes us to the Appalachian mountains, in the USA, where the three girls meet again for some more extreme sports. This time around, the girls intend to go with caving... Indeed, it becomes apparent that the beautiful Juno has discovered an exciting and popular cave to go scrambling around in. In her little cabin in the woods, we meet three new friends who will join them on the expedition (including Nora-Jane Noone who we once saw in The Magdalene Sisters and Saskia Mulder, sister to the top model Karen).

In the first shots of the cavern, the spectator will undoubtedly enjoy the immense beauty of the depths.
However, Neil Marshall, the director, rapidly creates an atmosphere that will hinder any fantasies that one could have about attempting any caving adventures. He very successfully transcribes for the audience the moments of panic which one can have while in the Earths natural caverns. It is impossible not to feel the claustrophobia as the girls squeeze through the tiny water-dug arteries. And at one point in particular, it is even possible to feel the same respiratory problems as the heroine, Shauna MacDonald.
Yet the film does not stop there... and when the girls come across heaps of human and animal bones, they realise that they are not the only ones there, in the depths of this cave.

Marshall once gave us the rather poor Dog Soldiers were tough British military men had to fight off vicious gangs of werewolves in the Scottish wilderness. This time, the director has greatly improved in his ability to communicate terror to an already anguished audience. The Descent is the kind of film where one may very quickly find himself shouting “Behind you!” at the top of his head.

Get ready to feel your heartbeat to sprint… Oh! And you might well scream a little.

Polo

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