- Shauna Macdonald as Sarah
- Natalie Mendoza as Juno
- Alex Reid as Beth
- MyAnna Buring as Sam
- Saskia Mulder as Rebecca
- Nora Jane Noone as Holly
Headed by an all female cast, The Descent emerges as a shocking, nail-biting horror film that is both effective in terms of atmosphere and characters. Marshall builds up tension and then unleashes horror without warning on the viewer.
The main story revolves around Sarah, who a year earlier lost her husband and daughter in a car accident. Still reeling from this, her thrill-seeking friends decide to take her on a bonding session. The sextet consists of loyal Beth, adventurous Holly, Med student Sam and her older sister Rebecca. Spearheading the group is the adventurous and ambiguous Juno, whose relationship with Sarah is examined throughout the narrative. The group enters a cave in the Appalachian Mountain Range to pot hole. Everything seems ordinary enough until they end up trapped inside. They soon discover that they are not alone in the cave and must battle against a horrific force to face any chance at survival. Claustrophobic scares, jump moments and fraying relationships soon form the backbone of the film as the girls battle to survive the subterranean threat known as the Crawlers.
Although the basic premise may sound like the same old horror story, The Descent actually proves interesting and spine chilling viewing because of its use of foreboding silence and all female cast. All of the actresses create convincing portraits of ordinary women thrust into brutal circumstances.Comparisons can be drawn between The Descent and Deliverance; as both have a strong single gender group and both have to fight against a territorial and violent threat. Many references are also made, especially the ominous sound of ‘Dueling Banjos’ as the girls approach the cave. Also, unlike some horror films in which there are characters that we don’t care for, The Descent establishes the friendships and individuality of each girl and furthers our feelings towards them. Sarah is by the far the most interesting of the group, as she transforms from a quiet, withdrawn girl to vengeful primal in order to survive the carnage. One shot of the film that sticks with me is Sarah, after emerging from a pool of blood and newly baptised as the modern primitive, violently defending herself against the Crawlers. So much is conveyed in the shot and it clearly establishes Sarah’s own descent into a animalistic state of mind. Her relationship with the adventurous and headstrong Juno also provides secondary conflict and plays out throughout the film before the brutal finale. For all of the women the main threat appears to be the Crawlers, yet fraying relationships as tensions boil and blood spills provide just as many scary and horrifying results.
The film should also be praised for its eerie sense of claustrophobia that pervades the earlier scenes before the shocking and nerve shredding onslaught of Crawlers. When watching the film, we genuinely feel like we are in the cave, attempting to climb through various chasms. Lighting also plays an integral part, framing scenes in a green hue of night vision and unnerving contrasts between darkness and light.
A brutally effective film which also raises many questions, The Descent is essential viewing for those who want a horror film with believable characters, atmosphere and plenty of scares. One thing is certain, you may think twice about venturing into a cave or pot holing after viewing this film.