I’d forgotten how much The Descent freaks me out until I rewatched it. And it’s not the scary cave monsters, so much as the insanely claustrophobic atmosphere of the entire film. I remember sitting in the theatre the first time I saw it, clutching the arm rest and constantly whispering to my friend “OhmygodIdon’tLIKETHIS!” And nothing was even happening. It was the tension, the anticipation, the knowledge that these women were all STUCK underground… it freaked me the hell out. And it still does, apparently, since I kept forgetting to breathe every time someone got stuck in a crevice, had to crawl on their belly to get somewhere or just found themselves enveloped in darkness. Buh. I have never considered myself claustrophobic (when I was a kid, I used to sit in the cupboard under our kitchen sink and just play for HOURS in the dark by myself, surrounded by pots and pans. That’s a true story and a little insight into how creepy I was as a kid) but I think it’s safe to say, spelunking? Not really for me.
Juno, Sarah and Beth are all besties. Juno is a bit of an adrenaline junkie and often drags her friends out on extreme adventures. Beth is a school teacher and very pragmatic. Sarah’s husband and daughter died tragically right after the last expedition the ladies went on, so she’s a little cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Also, you find out later that Juno was totally sleeping with Sarah’s husband so, maybe not the best bestie ever. A year after her family’s deaths, Sarah is dragged out on a spelunking expedition with Juno, Beth, their friends Rebecca and Sam (sisters) and Juno’s friend Holly. Juno decides to make things really interesting, so she takes them into an unexplored cave system. Once their path collapses behind them, the team is forced to forge forward and pray for a way out. What they don’t realize is that there’s a reason these caves are mostly undiscovered. And that’s because these guys like to chill out down here:
So the ladies now find themselves trapped in the dark, underground, with no way out and these creepy-ass cave monsters hunting them like rodents. And, SPOILER ALERT! It don’t end well for them.
Here’s why I love this movie though: while the movie is sold on the concept of being a horror flick about “monsters”, you don’t actually see the fuckers until halfway into the film. There are noises, we see shadows, and so the threat is ever looming. And since the audience goes into the movie expecting monsters, the tension is constantly there, just waiting for them. But the majority of scares and anxiety in the film is caused simply by the horrific concept of being trapped underground and having to find your way out. THAT’S the true horror. And it’s brilliant.
I also love the complicated character that is Juno.
On the one hand, this whole thing is pretty much all her fault – she took them into an unknown cave, told no one, and had no backup plan for rescue. On the other hand, when those creatures attack Holly and try to drag her away, Juno is right in there fighting them off and stabbing them with her rock-climbing gear.
LIKE A BOSS. On that first hand again though, she does end up accidentally stabbing Beth and leaving her for dead.
And she didn’t even die. She lived long enough to sell Juno out to Sarah. Double oops. On the other hand yet again, she does show up and save Becca and Sam. Once more, LIKE A BOSS.
But she did sleep with Sarah’s husband. But she does refuse to leave the cave without Sarah. COMPLEX! I honestly don’t know if I love her or hate her! Say what you will about what an egomaniacal bitch she is (and she really is,) but she doesn’t back down from a fight. That said, her loyalty is more than a little fickle… But does any of that mean she deserved to die? I honestly don’t know but I do know that while I would never want her to be my friend, if I was being attacked in a cave I’d want her on my side.
Favourite part, scariest part, most traumatic part… a lot of them are the same here. It’s really hard to choose. Some choice moments include:
* Sarah getting stuck in that crevice.
Dear Jesus does that get me worked up. And just when I think that’s as nightmarish as it can get, THE CREVICE STARTS TO COLLAPSE. For me, it might be the scariest moment.
* Rebecca trying to climb across the ceiling of the cave when they reach a giant ravine.
It’s tense. Just watching it makes my arms hurt. And again, you find yourself constantly on edge thinking, “is this when those creatures show up? Will they attack now?”
* I audibly react whenever we see Holly’s broken leg:
UGHHHHHHHHHHHH. I hate it. IHATEITIHATEITIHATEIT. It gets me worked up every time. Compound fractures are my worst nightmare.
* That first sighting of the creatures. It happens so fast, you’re not even sure what happened. All you’re sure of is you saw it, it was there, and the fun is about to begin.
There is something about night vision that has always given me the heebie jeebies. I love when it’s utilized in horror because I think it’s terrifying, and also because I can never see it clearly which makes it somehow scarier to me. Another great moment with the night vision is Sarah coming to in the creatures’ pit o’ bones and using the night vision to look around:
That, followed by watching them eviscerate Holly’s body through Sarah’s shaky camera, is horrifying and gruesome and I love it.
Why I love it:
Besides all the previously stated reasons – less about monsters, more about atmosphere; complex characters; etc – I also really love that this is a horror flick dominated by chicks. There’s no dudes anywhere in it, no one to “rescue” the damsels and none of the characters are your typical “victim girl” archetype for horror movies. Yes, some get scared, and cry, and even run, but they never do anything stupid. They are constantly fighting for their own survival, relying on no one, not even each other. There’s a particularly interesting moment when Juno is screaming for her friends, trying to find anyone, and Rebecca and Sam, cowering, hear her and see the crawlers around them go chase after the sound of her voice. “The noise she’s making, she’ll bring every one of those things down on her head.” Rebecca whispers.”As long as it’s not on mine,” is her sister’s reply. That sums it up beautifully. Yes, they’re friends, and yes they don’t want each other to die, but girl power goes out the window when it’s about your own survival. If it’s you or me, these chicks always pick “me”. And I kinda dig that. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t go spelunking with me ever. Cave monsters or no, I’ll leave you for dead in a heartbeat.
Next up! Let’s take a gander at the gross and glorious James Gunn cult classic, Slither.