I think it was about five years ago, I was buying bootleg DVD’s from the local Chinatown (guilty me), and among the picks of all the recent summer blockbusters of that season was “The Descent.” I’d read about it in Total Film, a really fantastic UK movie magazine, and knew it was that indie-gem Australian horror movie about six women encountering cave-dwelling creatures. So, I bought it on sight, never to actually sit down and watch it. Until now.
It presents itself as a really simple story – “Six women, one cave, no chance,” as one reviewer put it – but “The Descent” is anything but a by-the-numbers flick. It could have played out like this: six anonymous big-breasted college grads go to climb a cave and get viciously eaten alive by cave monsters. But no, “The Descent” is a fully fleshed out, heart-wrenching piece of work. We have our dramatic lead, Sarah, who lost her daughter and husband in a car wreck and is looking for a light in her life; Juno, the adventurer; Holly, Juno’s possible lesbian lover (debatable); Beth, Sarah’s best friend; and two sisters, Rebecca and Sam. One is a teacher, one is doctor, and they all have lives; they are all real people.
These women all give amazing, beyond superb performances. The standout is by far Shauna Macdonald, an actress completely off the map, who plays Sarah, the lead. You can imagine – since she is the character who we watch grow – how her role evolves as these creatures begin knocking off her co-climbers one by one. By the end of the movie, she’s as angry and grown-up as Uma Thurman’s The Bride in “Kill Bill,” and we love her more than ever.
Another actress of note is Natalie Jackson Mendoza, who plays the plucky and semi-hateable Juno, whom everyone hates after she gets them lost, doesn’t have the guidebook, etc. She’s like Heather from “Blair Witch.” But she’s also a cold, hard bitch, and if there were an American remake (which would fail so hard, unless it had a great director), the fiery Michelle Rodriguez would be phenomenal. Just saying.
Which leads me to the number one guy: Neil Marshall, the writer-director. For those of you who have seen “The Descent,” you understand that to direct this movie would be like pulling teeth – it’s a very claustrophobic setting, and only a technological achievement of magical proportions could complete it. Of course, some or most of it was a set, but understandably, still a feat. We are presented with these six women in a closed-in space, and not once do we feel like there’s a camera and an entire crew swarming around them.
Marshall is a genius. He’s also director “Dog Soldiers,” a breakout horror from 2002, which I desperately will seek out. After “The Descent,” he did “Doomsday,” a much bigger blockbuster type in their vein of “28 Days Later.” I look forward to bigger and better horror projects from Neil Marshall for years to come.
Check out “The Descent,” that little Australian horror about girls in a cave – you shan’t regret the decision.
Shauna Macdonald … Sarah
Natalie Jackson Mendoza … Juno (as Natalie Mendoza)
Alex Reid … Beth
Saskia Mulder … Rebecca
MyAnna Buring … Sam
Nora-Jane Noone … Holly
Directed By … Neil Marshall
Leslie Simpson, who played one of the Crawlers, was actually killed twice on screen. He was the Crawler who’s eyes were gauged out by Sarah and the one that Juno beat with a rock.
Ross Tipograph is a film buff and Emerson College screenwriting major. When he’s not reviewing movies, he writes about Halloween costumes.