The Descent (***)

Posted on August 6th, 2006 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

So we went to see The Descent on Friday, after much hemming and hawing on what to see. Also on our radar were Miami Vice, Clerks II, and Talledega Night. We decided on The Descent, and the most convenient showtime was the 7pm at the Cinemark Tinseltown on 290. Note that we almost walked out of the theater, not due to the quality of the film but because since we were last at this particular theater it has decayed into a smelly, frayed, unpleasant venue, and we won’t be returning.

The film, however, was scary, tense, and very good. There’s nothing really deep here, although there are some serious plot developments unrelated to the overarching storyline. The gist of the story is that five women go a-spelunking and discover two things: a) catfighting is always popular with the multiplex masses and b) it sucks to be trapped in an uncharted cave system with beings who:

  • Appear to be an evolutionary offshoot of humans.
  • Hunt by sonar, like a bat.
  • Are blind, supposedly due to evolving in caves, but they also hunt on the surface, so WTF?
  • Can dodge swung pickaxes, even though they are blind.
  • Can’t sense heat, as they can walk within six inches of a human body (or flaming torch) and not sense it.
  • Have no sense of smell or touch, as they can stand on top of a human body, and not feel or smell that it’s not the rock floor of a cave (I guess these women all have 0% body fat and don’t use any personal care products?).
  • The survival skills of mutant cave humans are no match for an angry Asian woman, who kicks their ass in a fair fight, presumably using the innate fighting ability that Hollywood imbues into all Asian characters.

But idiotic plot holes don’t matter in a film like this. Please understand that in spite of the above list, this film is actually more intelligent than most Hollywood films I’ve seen in the last few years, which is sad. However, this film isn’t about logical integrity, it’s about claustrophobia, paranoia, compound fractures, puncture wounds, eye-gouging, rock-climbing, chimney-falling, and mutant-fighting.

This film was originally released in the UK in 2005, and I’ve heard that version had a different ending. I’m there will inevitably be a DVD with all the alternate endings, and I’ll probably get it just to see the director’s original ending, which one presumes is different from the ending required by Hollywood before distributing it to the US masses. That last part is conjecture on my part, but please, you know it’s right, don’t you?

Intact, however, is the excellent mood and feeling of tension the film creates. I’ve always known that I would never be a caver, but this film cemented that decision. There are many shots of tight squeezes and near-falls, sheer face climbs and dangling traverses, all of which look and feel completely real, as if they are taking place in a dank, dark cave system. The stuntwork and special effects are completely seamless, and there aren’t any forehead-slapping obvious moments of special-effects-trickery, continuity-lapses, or physics-defying-tricks. The film is not about supernatural events, and keeps things fairly realistic, once you suspend your disbelief enough to accept the basic storyline.

So overall this was a good, tense, scary film, and was worth seeing. I will reiterate that the Tinseltown theater on 290 is now basically a cesspool and we will not be returning to that venue unless there is a dramatic facelift or change in ownership or something.

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