The Descent: The most Artistic movie about killer, naked Bat People you'll ever see.
It might not be entirely fair for me to review The Descent (2005). On the whole, it's not what I would call a "bad" movie. That doesn't mean it's a good one, just that it doesn't necessarily deserve to be placed along side some of the other train wrecks that I've reviewed. Then again, it's about a small group of women fighting bat people....sort of. It's also an excuse to educate you guys a little on film theory. So, for my own sake, let me just type what's on my mind after watching this flick. You see, The Descent is a horror film that takes place (for the most part) in a cave. Do you know what that really means?
You're going to be looking at shots like this....a lot.
The most interesting thing about this movie is that you can't see much except darkness for most of it. So you're literally sitting around waiting for SOMETHING to jump out of the darkness. It's a common gimmick in any number of horror films (Angel Dust and Darkness come to mind) but this has got to be the first film that milks that gimmick for almost an hour. What I mean to say is that nothing (if you ignore the first minute of the film) really happens for a majority of the movie, so that just as you start to think that this is some sort of survivalist chick flick, you finally get a naked mutant jumping out of the darkness tearing out someone's throat. Some people would call this suspense. Others would call it hilariously retarded. I'll let you decide.
(By the way, The Descent was written/directed by Neil Marshall...the man who also directed the surprisingly decent werewolf movie Dog Soldiers. Dog Soldiers is memorable in my book because it's the only film that has an inspirational "Let's fight back" speech where survival is presented as akin to a bowel movement. I wish I was joking.)
The first 50 minutes of the film are all about a small group of women who are living the modern active lifestyle. You know what that means? That means they're independent women who all drive SUV's. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a SUV company sponsored the film...there's so much beautiful footage of these giant mammoth cars plowing through the woods it's downright criminal.) So, a bunch of models get together to go spelunking (there's a dirty joke waiting for someone already) in a cave. One of them lost her husband and her daughter in a car crash a year ago...and that's what we call the first "what the hell" moment. You see, the film pretty much begins with the leading lady surviving the accident that killed her family. She has visions of her daughter's birthday cake (don't ask), and it's sort of a recurring theme throughout the movie. The problem is we get this theme presented to us several times before the Bat People show up. Now, I know what you're thinking. Maybe this film is a drama about personal growth and development. Maybe you're right. There's no erotic clothing and despite the fact that the cast wears a hell of a lot of make-up to go spelunking, there's no obvious effort to keep the cast looking attractive...so the "sex" cliche doesn't hold true. The problem is that while there may be a bit of characterization and drama floating around, 98% of the film is still the cast starring at darkness looking afraid.
So let's talk about the plot. The women go into a cave, get trapped, and then all get eaten by bat people. I wish I could say there's fundamentally more to it, but everything else in the movie is just the cinematic equivalent of a styrofoam peanut: It's just there to take up space. So forget the subplot about the cheating husband and the treacherous friend. Forget about the gory "I broke my leg scene." Forget all about the long "climbing" scenes. All these things do is distract you from what the film's purpose is: To provide cheap and immediate scares with a little gore thrown in for spice. And you know what? The Descent accomplishes that goal rather nicely...just don't expect much else.
You know what time it is?
IT'S BAT PEOPLE TIME!
I'd show you better pictures of these guys but there really aren't any to show you. Shown only for seconds at a time, the director doesn't want you to look at his monsters too closely. Basically there's a race of blind bat people living underneath Chattooga State Park and now they've got our cast in their clutches. In reality it's just a bunch of people from a Lord of the Rings convention dressed up as Gollum. That said, they're pretty frightening at times. Well, they're scary in the first few scenes...after that you just sort of become numb. Bat People can only stay interesting for so long. The director knows this and finds a classic solution:
It amuses me to no end that the "eye-gouging" shot is longer than most of the characters' dialogue.
The good thing about fighting monsters is that you can have their heads explode messily with moral abandon.
So here's the deal: The film places you in darkness with nothing to look at. You struggle to grab onto anything. You jump at shadows because you're hyper-focused...(or desperately looking for something to entertain you/keep your attention). Suddenly there are Bat People everywhere and the darkness gimmick isn't enough. Thus the surviving heroines become super-kung fu fighters and messily start breaking Bat People in half. "Messily" might not describe it properly. The last two survivors start popping monster skulls against rocks, gouging out eyes, setting them on fire, and driving pick axes through their brains. After over an hour of minimal action, we're assaulted by gore, gore, and more gore. After the fight the heroine cripples the other girl and leaves here to die because she was screwing her husband. She slips, hits her head and...
Film theory Tangent: Before we continue let me teach you all (by all I mean both the people reading this) an Art Theory term that will let you pass any Film theory course and maybe a few beyond that. The term's DOUBLE ABYSS STRUCTURE. It's an awesome word that's got a simple definition but makes you sound smart for using it. It refers to any piece of art (film in this case) where the structure of the piece forces the audience to go through the same experience as the characters in the movie. You know what that means? Anytime the movie went "fuzzy" because the main character was drugged...it was Double Abyss Structure. Every time the characters were lost and you were too...it was Double Abyss Structure. And guess, what? A movie where the characters are in the dark and lost that forces the audience to look at darkness for almost an hour has a hell of a lot of Double Abyss Structure built right in. I'll stop now and start making fun of the ending if that's alright with you. (That's your cue to stop reading if whatever you've read here makes you want to go out and watch this thing. Again, it's totally weird to be reviewing something "new".)
There are two endings...well, sort of. The U.S. version ends sooner, while the original version continues from that "ending" on. So what's the difference? Well, if you've ever seen any Japanese horror film then this "surprise ending" shouldn't really surprise you. The lone survivor wakes up from her fall, climbs out of the cave, and hops in her SUV. After a slow (and beautiful) SUV commercial, she pulls to the side of the road. Suddenly she looks to her right:
Oh, THIS is original. She sees the ghost of the friend she murdered dressed like the ghost in Ringu/Dark Water/The Crow/any Japanese Horror movie. The implication is that she's gone insane, but at least she's free. So what happens in the "real" ending?
The same thing happens though after she sees here friend looking like Eric Draven she wakes up, still trapped in the cave. She sees her daughter and that damned birthday cake I mentioned earlier. So you think she's dead. Then the camera pans back and....
You see she's sitting there alone staring at nothing. The last survivor's gone insane and as the camera pans back the noises of slobbering bat people gets louder and louder as they get closer and closer.
God damn I love a horror movie where there isn't a happy ending.
On the whole, I liked the movie. I still say ANY movie is scary if you just film people in darkness playing with flashlights for an hour...but you have to respect the film for taking the gimmick and running with it. I just hate that I had to sit through so much filler before something interesting happened. I don't NEED monsters to make a movie interesting, but since practically everything else is going to be forgotten the moment they show up, don't bother trying to convince me that it's important. Like I said: A group of women go into a cave, they get trapped, and then get eaten by Bat People. If that's the kind of movie you need in your life (and I, for one, do) then check it out by all means. It's like a sensory deprivation experiment only with Bat people...that are nude. You know that interests you. Admit it.
Copyright 2006. I think this may have been the first movie I've endorsed for a reason beyond "holy crap this is so terrible you have to see it." It's not a classic or anything, but it is a shiny experiment. Oh and all images are not the property of myself and are used solely for review purpose via Fair Use laws. Really. I swear.