Friday, February 3, 2012

Women in Horror: The Descent

** This review contains spoilers. **

Sarah’s husband and child died in a tragic car accident a year ago. Now, her estranged friends come together with her to go on their annual caving trip. It’s a little awkward at first because they hadn’t seen each other since the accident, but that’s quickly over as they spend a night of drinking and reminiscing together. The next day, they head out to Borum Caverns, an easy, tourist level cave. They go there to find a much more difficult cave and end up trapped inside due to an avalanche. They start to panic and turn on each other. One of them becomes injured because of her own recklessness, making it imperative that they get to the surface. An unforeseen obstacle rears its ugly head in subterranean humanoid creatures that attack with ferocity and hunger. Can these six women battle these dangerous creatures and make it to the surface alive?

I saw posters for The Descent during its theatrical run in the US and I dismissed it as another cheesy, lame horror film. A few years later, my sister recommended it to me and I watched it in total darkness, enhancing the scares and the film’s already creepy atmosphere. The Descent is a frightening and claustrophobic film that features both realistic and supernatural scares. The first half of the film has no supernatural elements at all. The scares stem from narrowly escaping being crushed in an avalanche and trying to find a way out of the undiscovered cave while trying to keep calm despite practically certain death. Then the cannibalistic cave dwelling creatures appear and all hell breaks loose. The six women struggle to fight off these monsters and find a way out as their numbers dwindle, making their true natures emerge.

The six women in this film each have their own strong personalities and back stories that are established when they meet at a cabin the night before. When they are put under the stress of being trapped, they turn on Juno, the woman responsible for misleading the group and dooming them to certain death. Despite their fear and hopelessness, these women are incredibly resourceful and strong, even in the face of monsters. The monsters cause some of them to lose their humanity in order to fight back as ferociously and survive, Sarah and Juno in particular. Sarah goes from emotionally crippled and barely functional to bad ass creature killer. She puts aside her fear and emotion until only her anger remains. Juno is the opposite. She starts out strong until she accidentally murders one of her friends in the heat of battle. Afterwards, she keeps physically strong, but her fear and guilt eat at her. Sarah stabs Juno in the leg and leaves her for dead surrounded by creatures as revenge for everything that happened. Is it Sarah who has turned into a morally devoid monster and killed her friend? Or is Juno the villain, whose carelessness and cockiness cost her friends their lives? There is no clear answer to who is more justified or who ultimately is the hero of the film.

The Descent is one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen. It’s a perfect mix of suspense and gore that works harmoniously in a way I haven’t seen before. Through the supernatural aspect, it shows how quickly the behaviors and constructs of civilization fall away to basic, animalistic survival instincts. The women that make up the entire cast are well written and wonderfully crafted, dynamic characters. I highly recommend this film, but urge you to watch the UK ending and ignore the US ending.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins


M.A.D. said...

ah, Titania - you picked a GREAT one!!
I love the Descent and have re-watched it a few times, wonderful story line, directing, spec effects plus those gals' acting was spot on.

Unfortunately, movies like the Descent only serve to reinforce my claustrophobia/fear of spelunking :O

Brrr, remember the scene when that one girl became stuck ... it made me want to run outside and take deep, non-cave breaths hahaha

And you're right, it was amazing to see Sarah's metamorphis. Have you seen the Descent 2?? It was pretty decent, but not as epic as the first movie imo :)

LoriStrongin said...

Probably won't see this one because just reading horror freaks me out and watching it would be even worse. But I had to comment on that first part. What kind of friends are these if they can't be bothered to every so often check in on their friend who lost her whole family???


Niala Wesley said...

I don't know what I would've done if I was in Sarah's situation. I'm against revenge but man, Juno wasn't giving her reasons to want her to survive. To find out in the middle of all that chaos that Juno had been having sex with her husband, to hear Juno say that she "wasn't the only one to lose something" knowing she was talking about how she lost her lover who was Sarah's husband and saying that knowing Sarah also lost her only child and both husband and child died within inches of her, hearing from one of her dying friends that Juno was the one that harmed her, and knowing that Juno was the one that led them into that horror cave. I actually do like Juno as a character but if I was Sarah I would hate Juno with a fiery passion.

Since you are a feminist blog, what was your opinion on the perceived metaphors in the movie? That the cave represented the womb and the creatures were unwanted fetuses killing the empowered women one by one and the only survivor was the mother that had a child taken from her.

titania86 said...

Niala: I think that's an interesting interpretation of the film, but I didn't really think about it in that particular way. I read it as the monsters aren't real, but represent the conflicts and grudges between the women.