The Descent [15 Year Anniversary] Review: Peak Cavern Cave Viewing
It has been 15 years since the terrifying British horror film The Descent graced our screens and buried itself deep into our nightmares. In celebration of that the Village Screen Pop-Up Cinema hosted a special screening…in Peak Cavern Cave. If you’ve seen the film, you know what the implications of this are. If you haven’t seen the film here are a few keywords; Cave, Spelunking, Monsters, Pure Claustrophobic Terror.
If you get a chance to go to a screening by Village Screen I highly recommend it! The cave was stunning, beautifully lit and with entertainment before the film began. They did a great job of making sure everyone was socially distanced and provided table service for drinks. The food stalls were lovely, including a pie and mash stall and a pizza van both of which were delicious. Keep an eye out for any events in your area, you won’t regret it!
Now, onto the main event:
Directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Tales of Halloween, Hellboy), The Descent follows a group of female friends who, after the tragic death of Sarah’s husband and daughter, reunite for their annual caving expedition. Unfortunately, these thrill seekers get more than expected when a rockfall traps them in the cave system and they discover they may not be the only inhabitants of the underground dwelling.
Marshall doesn’t miss a beat, starting this Brit Horror with an instant jump scare that is as shocking as it is devastating. This is the crash that changed Sarah’s life and took away her family. The haunting dream sequence that follows, showing Sarah’s daughter Jessica blowing out her birthday candles, becomes a recurring motif throughout the film bringing fear, hope and heartbreak.
Horror, at its core, is always more interesting when it deals with the internal as well as the external. The Descent does this in untold amounts, exploring the broken relationships of these women and how it is exacerbated by the trauma they are facing. Each of our six women play a vital role without ever overstepping or distracting from the terror.
“…they may not be the first to explore this cave, yet there are no records of anyone making it out. Why? Probably the humanoid cave dwellers with a taste for human flesh.”
Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is our lead, who has already been through ‘the worst thing that can happen to you’ according to her close friend Beth (Alex Reid). Beth is the supportive character and spends her time genuinely trying to console and distract her grief stricken friend.
Then there’s the wildcard, Juno (Natalie Mendoza) who is wrestling her guilt by overcompensating and being selfishly reckless. It’s a recipe for high octane emotions, before you even begin adding the tension of being trapped underground. The fact that all the women are unique, fleshed out and capable is already a move away from the typical portrayal of females in horror films. These women are about to go through hell but they are not going down without a fight.
The internal issues of these women are enough to bring the tension, yet it is the external terrors that bring the fear. Once these women have ‘descended’ into the cave system they release that Juno has brought them to uncharted territory, not the safe cave they had a flight plan for. Hints are laid out including aged cave drawings, deep scratches in the walls and incredibly old equipment buried into the caving system. They begin to release they may not be the first to explore this cave, yet there are no records of anyone making it out. Why? Probably the humanoid cave dwellers with a taste for human flesh.
Marshall excels at creating a horror atmosphere, utilising coloured lighting through ominous red flares and sinister green hues from the glow sticks. His love for the genre is clear in his numerous references and nods. His Blair Witch Project use of the camcorder night vision adds to the intense and smothering cinematography, showing us the things we would prefer not to see. An intense encounter with one the monsters is clearly reminiscent of Alien, another film with a badass female lead and a crew being slowly picked off one by one. It is Sarah who is treated to some of the greatest visual references, emerging from a pool of blood Apocalypse Now style and becoming an ass kicking, blood dripping Carrie type by the climax of the film.
Of course, being a British screening we were treated to the original UK ending in all its brutal glory. It may be bleak, but it’s deserved and much more effective than the alternative ending. If you have not seen this film, do not research a single thing about it, just take my advice to watch it with the original ending.
So, how was the experience? Safe to say I listened to some happy music and took some deep calming breaths on the way home. Definitely a brilliant event, we’re already checking out their Halloween line up.