Saturday, October 20, 2012

Halloween movie month: The Descent

The Descent (2005)
Rating:  3.5/5

Basic plot:  Six women go caving in the Appalachian mountains, and encounter a gruesome horror in the dark of the caves.

Most horror movies make use of the dark and the shadows to intensify the suspense.  And one of the things that makes The Descent so terrifying is definitely the dark.  This film does a very accurate job of showing how dark caves are without artificial light.  When you are completely underground, there is no ambient light.  So after they are completely underground and away from the opening they entered through, the only light they have is from their flashlights, flares, and glow-sticks.  And when they are just using their flashlights, you only see what the light is shining on.  This limited amount of light, surrounded by complete darkness definitely adds to the suspense.  Especially because it just about forces you to watch the movie in as dark a room as possible.  If there are lights on, or a glare on the tv, it will be difficult to see what is going on.  So, in order to have as clear a picture of the film as possible, it helps to watch it at night with all the lights off - which, in a way, helps to immerse you into the experience.

And it is going to be a pretty suspenseful experience.  For starters, caving is a dangerous activity, so there are plenty of dangers just in what they are doing.  They could get lost, stuck when going through the crawl-spaces, parts of the cave could collapse, and so on.  On top of all of the natural dangers, you also know that there is something lurking in the caves, and are on edge waiting for them to attack.  As they are hiking to the cave, one of the women talks about all of the things that could possibly happen in the dark, including hallucinations.  And one of the characters does have hallucinations earlier in the film, as a result of her earlier experiences.  So when you hear strange sounds in the background, or when you see something that isn't there when the character takes a second look, you find yourself wondering if those are actually the creatures, or if they are just hallucinating.

At times, this film does show things through the view of a camcorder.  But, unlike most found footage type films, the camcorder view actually really works with this movie.  For starters, it's not being treated as "found footage."  And when they use it for the infrared view...let's just say that it was definitely the right call.

Overall, this was a really good movie, but there were a few shortcomings.  Most notably was the character development.  Overall, the character development is pretty good, but there are a few actions from the characters that don't entirely make sense.  And even though the creatures are an unknown entity, there are a few aspects about them that are inconsistent.  But these are very minor complaints.  Sure, the character/creature development isn't perfect, but it is definitely good enough to care about the characters and be terrified by the creatures.

Recommendation:  this is a must see!  Good acting.  Pretty good character development.  Good cinematography.  Really scary.  Good mix of suspenseful terror waiting for the creatures, and action fighting the creatures.  I don't know if it was intentional, but I also like the fact that the title, The Descent, could be taken literally for their descent into the cave, or to describe one of the character's descent into madness.

I picked this Blu-ray up at Walmart for $7.88.  I really enjoyed it, and I will definitely watch it again, so I think that it was worth it.  This blu-ray had 5 versions of the film:  rated, unrated, commentary with director and cast, commentary with director and crew, and picture-in-picture video commentary/behind the scenes.  I only watched the rated version, so I don't know how much the alternate versions of the film add.  But I did watch the rest of the extras.  Except for one short interview with the director about the ending of the film and how the US version differs from the UK version (the UK version is definitely the better ending), the extras are kind of boring/pointless.  There are deleted/extended scenes, but they don't really add anything.  When deleted/extended scenes add a lot and seem vital, I wish that they had just included them into the movie.  But when they don't add anything at all, they are just kind of pointless.  There is some point of view footage of someone going through a cave, but there is no commentary or voice-over explaining anything - so, again, kind of pointless/boring.  There are storyboard to scene comparisons, but no commentary explaining the process.  There is a brief "blooper reel" that is set to music, so it feels like the kind of montage you would see on a comedy film during the credits.  I wish that the extras would have been more impressive, especially since they very easily could have been more enjoyable if they had just added some commentary/narration.  If you like watching alternate version, or versions with commentary, then I would say this is worth a buy if you find it somewhere for $8 or less.  But since the rest of the extra features are just kind of boring/pointless, there just isn't enough to make this a must buy.

Be sure to check back soon for the next review in Halloween movie month.


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