[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B002PIUQ2W][/pullquote] Following the shift in horror films (arguably started by Final Destination) towards all out gore and obvious set ups, The Descent, released in 2005, bucked the new trend and relied on implicit horror as much as explicit horror to terrify audiences. The premise is simple “ a year after a tragic accident in which one girl loses her husband and daughter, five friends head into the Appalachian Mountains to go caving as a way to escape their lives and start loving each day. Without informing the others, the thrill-seeking lead girl changes their plans and guides them to a new cave system which they drop into and start exploring. Thinking that they are in the well used tourist system they had planned to visit, none of them hesitate to crawl through the small space that leads away from the first cavern.
It is this first crawl which sets the atmosphere in The Descent “ utterly unbearable claustrophobia like you have never seen. Somewhat predictably perhaps, whilst negotiating the incredibly tight passage, it collapses leaving the girls cut off from the way they entered. At this point, only one of them knows the gravity of the situation they are now in with the other four unaware that there may be no other way out of the system.
With the lighting now provided by red flares and the night vision setting on the video camera they have with them, and the echoing sound of the cave system always audible, the sense of containment in The Descent is tangible. After finding out that they are not where they thought, they stumble upon some cave paintings and find an old rusted climbing hook embedded in the cave roof while traversing a precipice. These findings given them some hope as they realise that this system has seen human life before although it is still unclear if there is another way out.
The Descent is not just a simple ‘can they find a way out?’ film though and the first time that the audience is made aware that there is ‘something else’ in the caves comes via a long shot of something on the cave ceiling. Shortly afterwards, under the green haze of the night vision, the opening reveal of just what we saw earlier is brilliantly executed in what is a genuinely terrifying moment.
From there, things escalate in The Descent and it is hard to say any more without giving anything away. What can be said however is that this is a masterpiece of creating an atmosphere that sucks you in and has you living the situation alongside the girls. With the caves the only setting for each scene, there is no let up from the claustrophobia and it leaves you squirming in your seat and gasping for air.
Whilst none of the actors in The Descent are known, this does not detract from the film. It is so well shot and structured that the characters are almost an afterthought. Ordinarily this would be a shortcoming but in this case, it does not matter as they are merely the pawns in this terrible story.