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Friday, March 02, 2007 

Slipping Into Darkness

THE DESCENT was the best horror movie of 2006. But it's Natalie Mendoza's cave that I wanna get lost in.

I'm not big on horror movies. Scratch that. I'm not big on modern horror movies or at least the movies released nowadays that shamelessly attempt to pass themselves off as legitimate inclusions to the genre. I gave SAW a chance and I'll never forgive the person who was responsible for that lapse in judgement for as long as I live. That's how terrible it was. The fact that a new SAW gets churned out before the previous installment has even finished its theatrical run and people still line up in droves to go see it...well, I guess you could say that's the only thing about the franchise that I find truly frightening. Give me the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE EXORCIST, PSYCHO, CARRIE and THE SHINING over HOSTEL, HOUSE OF WAX, WOLF CREEK, SILENT HILL or HIGH TENSION any day of the week. Though I will admit to being disturbed for a good while after seeing THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and I liked 28 DAYS LATER well enough.

Another rarity in modern horror, something original, came along recently and I knew the second that the trailer was over that this British thriller would be right up my alley. THE DESCENT (not to be confused with THE CAVE) takes horror back to the basics (and ups the "personal" horror ante for me by taking place in the Appalachian Mountains much like BLAIR WITCH did by being set in Maryland). There aren't any invincible serial killers, unnecessarily gory or graphic deaths just for the sake of gore and graphic death and most of all, it doesn't rely on cheap musical cues at just the right moment to get you to jump rather than actually startling you. See this and you'll remember what it's like to see a movie that has an actual mood, pacing and that builds up genuine tension. It's just six innocent female explorers hopelessly lost, unceremoniously trapped and short on supplies. In the dark. In an unexplored cave (thus, on top of not having a map of the cavern, any chance for a rescue is out the window). Which is all plenty scary enough by itself. Then the ladies start to run into some really, really nasty and bad things lurking down there. But I don't want to spoil it for you. The director Neil Marshall (DOG SOLDIERS) described it as "DELIVERANCE goes underground." The best way to get maximum enjoyment out of this one is to go in knowing as little as possible (kind of like THE MATRIX). But do remember to recommend it to friends who haven't seen it when it's over.

I'll be honest: THE DESCENT is a great movie and that quote in the trailer about it being a "new horror classic" might not be that far off. But that isn't why I took the time to blog today. Nope. The real reason is Natalie Mendoza (pictured above and below). Natalie plays the headstrong Juno, self-appointed leader of the spelunkers and adrenaline-junkie, thrill-seeking organizer of their little annual field trips. Not only is she a looker and bad as hell appearance-wise but when the shit hits the fan, Juno is the most physically bad-ass character in the movie, too. I just had to throw up a few pictures of Natalie and cross my fingers that we'll see her again in something soon.

By the way, if you do decide to rent or purchase THE DESCENT please, please, please get the Original Unrated Cut. I was talking to a friend who saw it in theaters and the theatrical ending is way more "Hollywood" and reassuring than the original, bleak ending included on the DVD. Lest you think this is simply a "good day gone horribly wrong" movie, know that there is some story here. It begins with all of the girls at a similar get-together, one year prior, where an unexpected tragedy occurs giving us some history, a bit of character development and if you have a sharp eye, a situation or two that come into play later (and possibly justifies some questionable actions). The dynamic between the girls on this expedition shifts and changes due to their past and their level of trust in one another; it brings some of them closer together or possibly turns others against each other. Trust me when I say it's one horror movie that will require repeat viewing to pick up on everything (not to mention the visual similarities and allusions to several great horror classics of the past).

Or just because it's so damn good.

And Natalie. *drools* Don't forget her.

The Descent wasn't just the best horror film of 2006, it was one of the best films period. And I say this from one viewing of the American theatrical cut (I still haven't been blessed with the original ending, although I know what it is, and it makes a hell of a lot more sense). Early reviews compared it to Alien, and it's easy to see why; both delve deep into the unfamiliar, and it's these dark terrains that prove to be as dangerous, if not more so, than the "monsters" themselves. Also, having read more than a fair share of feminist film theory, it's refreshing to see a film full of three-dimensional women without a stereotype in sight. That they do that and kick ass is a real feather in writer/director Neil Marshall's cap (I've tried writing female-driven stories and it's fucking hard - I end up with a bunch of weird women who talk and act like dudes, haha).

It seems lately Ms. Mendoza has appeared on the BBC series "Hotel Babylon". Don't know much about it, but here's a link to her character/bio.

Yeah, "The Descent" is the best horror film I've seen in a long time. It's a shame it never got more attention. I was lucky enough to see the see the original British version with the uncut ending.

The atmosphere, and terror in the film is astonishing. It really puts American made horror films shame (any of those that have come out in the last 5-10 years, maybe even further back than that).

The Brits have done really well lately with "28 Days Later", and now "The Descent". I hear Neil Mar shall's "Dogsoldiers" is pretty good as well.

I forgot to mention I'm definitely going to be checking out that "Hotel Babylon" series. :D

Neil Marshall's "The Descent" is the most exhilarating and exciting psychological horror-thriller I've seen in years. I call it a "psychological horror-thriller" because I don't know quite how to fit it into a genre. It belongs somewhere between "Deliverance," "Alien" and "Jaws" -- the story of six women for whom a cave-diving expedition becomes a descent into the abyss.

I've seen ads that promote "The Descent" as being "from the studio that brought you 'Saw' and 'Hostel'" -- but what makes it so powerful is that it's not another piece of literal-minded torture porn. It's a smart movie designed for people who love movies, and it's full of clever and effective, ingeniously integrated references to other memorable thrillers, concentrating on classics from the 1970s (like the titles mentioned above). "The Descent" is an adrenaline work-out for anybody, but especially thrilling for movie buffs. - Jim Emersonon July 30, 2006

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