It’s the story of a group of thrill seeking female friends who meet a couple of times a year to climb mountains, base jump and leap out of planes. When we first meet them they are all happy, smiling broadly while white water rafting. This being a horror movie you just know that soon those smiles will be wiped off their faces.
Sure enough, not even five minutes in things take a turn for the worse when tragedy strikes one of this feisty bunch. The group works through the heartbreak in the only way they know how—by taking another huge risk. This time they decide to jump in a big hole. They go spelunking.
A yawning underground cave is the perfect setting for a horror film. You have darkness, shadows (and maybe even mysterious shadowy figures), and claustrophobic atmosphere. The Descent makes great use of its surroundings playing off our primal fears—fear of the dark, fear of small, enclosed spaces, fear of not being in control. As the women go further down into the cave their situation becomes dire and the tension builds for the viewer. First time director Neil Marshall skillfully turns up the heat, making the audience feel for this cast of unknowns as their resolve is pushed to the limit. Two miles underground there isn’t any sunshine and the movie reflects that, getting darker the further down they travel. It’s bleak, violent and gets bleaker and more violent as the movie goes on.
The Descent has plenty of gory moments but it isn’t the blood and guts that terrifies. It is the hopeless situation, the unrelenting air of menace that really plays on the viewer’s fears.