If a single monster didn’t pop up during the running time of THE DESCENT, it wouldn’t be any less terrifying. Neil Marshall struck gold when he had the idea to use spelunking as the source of terror in his story. What more could you ask for from a location in a horror film? The caves that the cadre of adventurous friends journey into are full of darkness and cramped spaces, viscerally playing upon mankind’s vivid fears of entombment, of desolation, of the unknown lurking within primordial shadows. The slimy orcs that skitter about might convince the viewer that this is a good old fashioned monster romp–which it is, as there is enough growling and tearing and blood spatter to spare–but THE DESCENT is first and foremost a tale of survival in the same vein as other classics of the hunted turning the spears on their would-be captors like THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932), DUEL (1971), and RITUALS (1977). You’ll instantly take note of the high testosterone level in the mentioned films, and the presence of an all-female cast here is not just a cheap reversal that’s made in order to appear fresh. The arc of Shauna Macdonald’s Sarah is where Marshall gets the most meat out of his script, showing us a woman who goes from a shattered spirit to a warrior when she realizes that not even flesh-eating cave dwellers can take away anymore from her than what she’s already lost. Her wild fight back against the creatures is electric in its catharsis. The final moments of the film seem to reflect the plight of Marilyn Burns’ Sally Hardesty from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974). Both heroines end up coated in blood, their piercing blue eyes having drunk their emotional fill after seeing their friends devoured before them. What sets Sally and Sarah apart is the way they choose to react to their ordeals. Sally screams; Sarah roars.

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