The Descent

“There’s no breeze! It could be any one of these tunnels! Take your pick!”


By boiling down a spelunking-trip-gone-wrong into its base fears — the dark, claustrophobia and mistrust of one’s own senses — Neil Marshall is able to wring out an impressive level of atmospheric tension and dread. An entirely female group of thrill-seekers exploring the cave creates a refreshing dynamic, though only the core group of three friends have any real depth. The trick that makes The Descent so effective is a cunning opening sequence that uses and undermines the tropes of horror editing to make the viewer question their own anticipation of events. This makes later sequences more unsettling when the line becomes unclear between reality and characters’ imaginations (particularly in the case of Sarah, whom we know suffers hallucinations) as the group’s literal descent extends to a metaphorical one. My chief criticism is with the action-orientated sequences in the latter half of the film, the darkness and jump-cuts often making it impossible to ascertain what is unfolding. Similarly, the sound levels have a tendency to swallow quieter dialogue, detracting from some (admittedly predictable) interpersonal revelations. It is worth noting that the ending in the English release, though less than a minute longer, is more satisfying than the truncated version released for American audiences.