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  The Descent

Neil Marshall, USA, 2006

Rating: 3.1


Posted: August 30, 2006

After having lost my faith in horror movies for several months, I decided to liberate some coin from the Shaking Through petty cash fund, which is basically an old Campbell’s soup can (chicken and stars I think it was, with four oxidized pennies, a triad from the set of Battlestar Galactica, and a quarter-inch lock washer) and see if I could find hope for this mangled genre in The Descent.

Unlike the film, lemme get you straight to the heart of the matter. A bunch of broads get together for some outdoor adventure and decide to explore a cave somewhere in the Appalachians. One of the women has a backstory in which she lost a child in an auto accident, but quite frankly it does nothing to advance the story except take up about seventeen minutes. Suffice it to say, the leader of the group, Juno, has promised to lead her friends down an already explored cave system, but instead, as a surprise, she takes them to an uncharted cave deep in the wilderness. What a pal. And before you ask, no, there is no overt lesbianism. So far, it looked like I was in for an attempt at a legitimate scary movie.

With our heroines now two miles underground, their exit becomes blocked by a collapse, and they are forced to search for another way out. However, instead of an exit, they discover some kind of eerie, needle-toothed humanoid creatures, and as you can probably surmise, one by one, the ladies get picked off. Now, good monsters are essential to any scary movie, and I will say that here, these cave freaks deliver. They’re totally blind, really carnivorous (they do leave the cave to hunt, it seems) and I gotta say, these cats are cut! I mean, really! The pecs, the biceps -- man, the six-pack on one of these freaks was phenomenal! Move over CHUDS, there’s a new subterranean monster in town! I guess a steady regimen of scaling rocks and devouring the occasional deer or hillbilly really pays off. Then again, I suppose there’s not really much else to do down there except work out and eat.

The best way I can describe these things would be to combine Gollum with Barlow from Salem’s Lot, and give them the frenetic energy of a chimpanzee who just snorted twenty-two yards of cocaine. These boys ain’t playin’! Sadly for them, a couple of the women are fully up to taking the hurt to them, and after tons of blood, guts, eye-gougings and pickaxes to the skull, humans have once again managed to bring violence and hatred to a culture that was pretty much keeping to themselves. Will we ever learn? Did these cave freaks come out and bother them? No, they said “Hey, we’re cave freaks, and we’re gonna hang out down here by ourselves so we don’t bother anyone.” Was that good enough? It would seem not. I have to say that I gotta side with the cave freaks on this one. Now, should they step out of the cave and show up salivating at my doorstep replete in funk and cave musk, well, then it’s on. Until then, I declare their actions just.

Now, the more observant among you may notice that I’ve spent some time debating whether these creatures work out and discoursing on the politics of human versus monster confrontations. Why? Well, first, that’s because they are by far the most interesting characters in this offering and second, it’s because there’s just no reason to care about any of human characters. I don’t care why they’re there, and there’s no reason to care about who they are. One could argue that the film could have started with one of these chicks taking a boot to the head of one of these monsters and ended up in the same place. I suppose that would be a bit base, but I’m just sayin’!

The Descent is not a shining example of storytelling, character development or pacing, but it doesn’t sell out with cheap, campy one-liners, and never tries to interject slapstick. As I always preach, it remains true to its genre, and for that, it deserves credit. It has excellent monsters, which are basically aggravated by human women, and for this reason I think most of the male viewers will sympathize with the cave freaks.

All in all, a good effort, although well short of what could have been. Still, in these bleak times, a solid effort that falls short of a worthwhile goal is better than a disaster.

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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