The Descent (2005)

Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Nora-Jane Noone, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Oliver Milburn

Directed by: Neil Marshall

Rating: 1 2 3 4

'Fear of the dark.
I have a constant fear that someone's watching me.'

Iron Maiden, Fear of the Dark
Shauna Macdonald as Sarah in The Descent

Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers is one of the best horror films of the 21st century. Funny, gory, intelligent and scary, it breathed a fresh whiff of Pedigree Chum into the stale world of American remakes that were (and still are) glutting the market. And now Marshall is back with The Descent, a terrifying tale of six extreme sportswomen who seek out more thrills than they bargained for when they set out to explore an uncharted cave system in the Appalachian Mountains. And lucky me, while the rest of Edinburgh was rocking out to, er, Annie Lennox and the Corrs at the Live8 concert, I got to attend a special preview, courtesy of those nice folk at Dead by Dawn.

The brutal pace and uncompromising nastiness of the film is set straight from the start, when we witness the horrific death of the husband and daughter of Scots adventuress Sarah (Shauna Macdonald). One year later, the gang of girls are back together again: fragile Sarah, loyal and sensible Beth (Alex Reid), gung-ho Holly (Nora-Jane Noone), um, two sisters who don't really do a lot and beautiful and ever so slightly evil Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza), who has more than a touch of Ally McBeal superbitch Ling about her. The bright banter of the women, while not as entertaining as the filthy squaddie talk of Dog Soldiers, is brilliantly interlaced with an underlying tension and unease, the spectre of Sarah's husband clearly unbalancing the dynamic of the group.

Natalie Jackson Mendoza as Juno in The Descent

Not much time is wasted on preliminaries however, and next thing we know we're down in the caves. And if, like me, you're at all claustrophobic, you'll start getting scared. I always suspected pot holing was a stupid sport, and this film has only confirmed my fears. Why anyone would think it fun to squeeze themselves down dark, constricted rocky passages with no hint of an exit at the other end is beyond me. Predictably enough, once down in the caves, the tunnel collapses behind our heroines, trapping them in a labyrinth of eerie, black passages, littered with the remains of. oooh, other pot holers. Wonder what happened to them then? But lack of oxygen and starvation are the least of our heroines' worries - it's what's trapped down there with them they need to worry about.

For naturally, this being a horror film, the caves are populated by evil, cannibalistic Morloch type creatures that make Gollum look like Bambi. And when they attack, the violence is so fast and furious and relentlessly vicious it takes your breath away. Cue whirling axes, icky broken bones, vat loads of blood and some truly shocking brutality - hooray! Will our heroines escape in one piece? Or will they all get picked off one by one in unexpected and deeply unpleasant ways? Well, you'll just have to go see the film, won't you.

Bloody hell: Shauna Macdonald in The Descent

Definitely not one for the faint hearted, The Descent is a grim and nasty piece of work, so don't go expecting Dog Soldiers with chicks. However, it does grim and nasty with such glee and gusto that you can't help liking it. Well scripted, carefully thought out and brilliantly executed (the lighting in the caves is amazing), it's got all the essential ingredients of a good horror flick: strong characters, scary monsters and lots and lots of blood. You will leap out of your seat at least three times, you may well have to look away in some of the more surgical moments and you will leave the cinema determined never ever ever to go down into a cave. Exciting, horrible and very entertaining, The Descent takes low budget British horror movies to a new height. or should that be depth?

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