The Descent (see feature) is equally unwatchable, but for all the right reasons. My suspicion that British horror is a wildly overrated genre hit the floor at exactly the same moment I did. It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I spent half the film with a finger in my left ear and a hand in front of my eyes.
The director, Neil Marshall, scored a colloquial hit with his first feature, Dog Soldiers, a clever Highland spin on werewolves. The Descent will frighten everywhere it plays. This is a thriller that knits the psychological trauma of losing your family in a car smash with the claustrophobic terror of a potholing expedition that goes spectacularly wrong.
The damaged heroine is Shauna Macdonald’s grieving survivor, Sarah. A year after burying her husband and daughter in Scotland she hooks up with five friends for a caving holiday in the Appalachian mountains. Unlike most horror-flick plankton, these “chicks with picks” are expert climbers, kitted to the teeth.
It’s bad enough watching actors crawl through subterranean worm-holes in the pitch and disorientating dark. But the local fauna is something else again.
The brute power of Marshall’s film is how fear loosens both senses and loyalties. The chills are old-fashioned. But the production values are terrific. The moments of crisis are filmed like epileptic fits. The gore leaves nothing to the imagination and everything to your next nightmare.
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