Archive for August, 2006

Snakes on a Plane (2006)

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The Descent (2005)

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Directed by: Neil Marshall
Written by: Neil Marshall
Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, and Nora-Jane Noone

“Don’t believe the hype.”

That’s what I keep telling myself. But when you hear people talk about how great something is over and over again, it’s hard not to build it up in your mind. All too often, I’ve gone into a theater psyched, ready to see the greatest film in the history of cinema, only to leave my seat in a disappointed funk when the closing credits finally rolled. So last year, when I first heard people from England filling message boards with gushy praise for a little horror film called The Descent, I was more than a bit skeptical. I mean, the movie couldn’t possibly be that good…could it?

After more than a year, I’ve had a chance to see the film myself, and I have to tell you…it was well worth the wait.

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I must urge you to avoid any and all spoilers. The movie is best experienced as an uncharted cavern, never knowing what new twist or turn lurks just around the next bend. Without giving too much away, here are the basics: Ego-centric Juno (Natalie Mendoza), looking for a thrill, convinces five friends to join her on a spelunking mission in the Appalachian mountains. Disaster soon strikes, however, leaving the women trapped without hope of rescue, surrounded on all sides by darkness…and blind, albino, bat-faced killing machines.

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Writer/Director Neil Marshall and his crew have crafted a thriller in the truest sense of the word. The film takes its time getting started, beginning on the surface–introducing us to the women, letting us get to know their characters. Then, as they climb deeper and deeper into the earth, the shots get tighter and tighter, creating a palpable sense of claustrophobia. Editing then adds a feeling of disorientation to the mix, giving us quick flashes of light and movement (this proves especially effective for a chilling scene involving a pick-ax). And by filming his humanoid creatures moving in ways normal human beings can’t, Marshall makes them all the more frightening and unpredictable.

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In this dark and musty era, where every horror movie that makes its way to the multiplex seems to be either an unnecessary remake of an American classic or an English language version of a far superior Japanese movie, The Descent is a welcomed blast of fresh air.

Lionsgate, the studio that released Hostel and the Saw films, deserves major kudos for finally bringing Marshall’s frightfest to the United States. That said, I have a bone to pick with them on the decision to alter the film’s original ending. One minute was trimmed, and an alternate shot inserted, giving us Yanks an ending that is supposedly less bleak than the original. What we are left with is a final note that seems cheap when compared to the uncompromising film that precedes it. Now we have to wait until a U.S. DVD release to watch the terrifying finale the rest of the world has already seen.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another year.

4.5 out of 5 stars.