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Movie Review

The Descent

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence/gore and language

Reviewed by: Taran Gingery

Extremely Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Thriller, Adventure, Horror
1 hr. 39 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
August 4, 2006 (wide)
Copyright, Lions Gate Films
Copyright, Lions Gate Films
Copyright, Lions Gate Films
Copyright, Lions Gate Films
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Lions Gate Films

How does viewing violence in movies affect the family? Answer

Every time you buy a movie ticket or rent a video you are casting a vote telling Hollywood “That’s what I want.” Why does Hollywood continue to promote immoral programming? Are YOU part of the problem?

Featuring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone, MyAnna Buring
Director: Neil Marshall (“Dog Soldiers”)
Producer: Keith Bell, Christian Colson, Ivana Mackinnon, Paul Ritchie, Paul Smith
Distributor: Lions Gate Films

“Scream your last breath”

“The Descent” begins with something that we are all very familiar with: friendship. Not only a strong friendship between the six leading ladies, but in particular a strong bond between main leads Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) and Beth (Alex Reid), who was Sarah’s greatest comfort during a time of tragedy. However, even the strongest friendships, when put under trial, can either become stronger or be broken, and this friendship is about to be put through its greatest test yet.

Sarah, having recently lost her husband and daughter in a terrible accident, is still suffering from nightmares a year later. In an effort to bring the group of friends together one last time before summer break ends, college resumes and other responsibilities make them too busy and also to give Sarah’s mind something else to dwell on for a while, these six friends decide to go spelunking (cave exploring). So, on one fine morning, this group consisting of Sarah, Beth, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), Holly (Nora-Jane Noone), Sam (MyAnna Buring), and Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), set off for a well-known cave in the Appalachian Mountains. Everything starts out well, and then things go terribly wrong.

The trouble first begins when a cave-in blocks the passage out of one cave and it is discovered that the map has been left in the car. Then it is revealed that they aren’t in the well-known cave after all, but an unknown group of caves—something Juno, who organized the expedition, knew full well, but she didn’t tell anyone. So, the explorers are left with only one choice—to find their own way out. Soon after, they find that they aren’t the first to be in the caves after all.

A hideous race of humanoid creatures has been dwelling deep in the bowels of the Earth for who knows how long. They have no human emotions, no feelings except a hunger for anything that walks on four or two feet, and they are hunting these six, interesting-looking victims. Now, what was only a race for survival has become a true fight for their lives as the group faces terrors and obstacles that will test their friendship and their will to go on.

Technically, “The Descent” is a marvel. The Appalachian location is perfect and at times, wondrous to behold. The caverns are extremely realistic and are both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Filmed entirely on sets using green screens, the results are astounding and not once could I tell that they weren’t real caves. All of the acting in the 6 leads is strong and special mention must go to whoever plays the creatures and whoever did the make-up on them, because they are disturbingly real.

Morally, however, the film is shakier. Partly this is because not all of the characters are developed enough and some only seem to be around to be killed by the creatures. Those that are developed end up changing in drastic ways, making you think differently of them. Sarah, the most developed character of them all, is the easiest to sympathize with because she has recently experience a tragedy, and yet through it all she is sustained by the memory of her lost child which seems to give her a will and strength to survive. True, it is not God who is her strength, but someone seems to give her these memories at the right times. However, her actions in the final moments of the film suggest that a lot of that strength also comes from a desire for revenge and she is shown as ruthlessly unforgiving, both of which are morally unacceptable for a Christian audience.

Juno, the second most developed character, is the hardest to sympathize with. Her actions at the beginning of the film show an almost prideful ambition that the rest of the party doesn’t seem to share, as she purposefully leads them into the wrong cave so that they can be the first to explore it. When she realizes that the entire thing may have been a mistake, she becomes dangerously aggressive towards the creatures, to the point that she seems to take a strange delight in killing them instead of merely defending herself and loses all control of what she is doing in a bloodlust, with gruesome results.

All of the girls, however underdeveloped some of them may be, display a strong sense of courage and loyalty in the hardest circumstances and all of them at some point in the movie do all that they can in order to save each other, even when there isn’t any hope. But many of the girls are eventually killed off, with the most unsympathetic ones alive in the final half, leaving the audience either rooting for them or wishing that they would come to their senses and do something to make us like them more.

From a parental perspective, there is plenty here to make “The Descent” not for kids and only for adults or older teenagers with strong stomachs. Five minutes into the film, we see Sarah’s husband bloodily impaled in a car accident, but that’s only the beginning. On the trail to the cave, the girls pass a rotting deer corpse crawling with maggots. One girl falls and breaks her leg, resulting in a compound fracture and a bloody, agonizing treatment. During various fights, several of the monsters are stabbed, bashed in the head, jabbed in the eyes, etc, and all with very bloody results. One girl has a chunk bitten out of her neck, another’s throat is cut, and still another is stabbed in the neck with a pick-axe. Two girls have their guts literally torn out by ravenous creatures.

On top of all this, the language is pretty appalling, too. Do the girls seriously have to use the ‘F’ word whenever something bad happens? Some smoking and reckless drinking is also present near the beginning.

Many of these graphic and blood-drenched scenes had the audience turning away in disgust. Interestingly enough, when the girls had to watch their friends being killed in such a horrible fashion, they closed their eyes to it, yet the camera lingered. I think having the camera also turn away after making its point would’ve been more effective towards making a fairly decent and well-made horror flick without drowning it in gore. Also, in order for a horror film to be strong, we need characters that we can root for, and if the filmmakers had written these 6 women as morally strong to the very end, the film would have been all the more powerful.

Thus, in conclusion, it’s not worth our time and money to wade through rivers of blood and filthy language to take this “Decent” into Hell, although it could’ve been a decent scary thriller if the moviemakers had made some wiser decisions.

Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/Nudity: Minor

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive—It seems the mistake one makes in viewing this film is choosing to ignore, or be ignorant of, the obvious parallels between this and other works. The creatures themselves, to my untrained eye, which I admit wasn’t always able to keep up with the quick cuts, triggered a memory I had of nightmarish imagery from Dante’s Inferno, particularly the interpretive artwork of Francisco de Goya. Notice also that the creatures do not appear until the disharmony in the group rears its ugly head and old grudges come to light, as if they are a manifestation of the enmity between the women.

I recognized, perhaps as a tribute or “theft,” the famous shot from “Apocalypse Now” in which Willard’s head rises slowly from the mud. Although in this film the liquid is blood, it is perhaps a more explicit visual depiction of Joseph Conrad’s journey into the black heart of humanity—its Heart of Darkness, as it were—finding only evil. Other allusions, both in craft and content, occur to me, but part of the fun is finding them on one’s own.

Though it may be the product of a bleak, almost nihilistic world-view, this film is not without its value. Aside from the sheer horror it communicates, (And quite well, I might add: I was in such a rush to get into the sunlight after it ended that I left my hat on the seat next to me.) it’s an interesting study of the depravity that passes for “survival.” That is, the lengths to which a person may go to survive are not always to be commended or even condoned, although it is easy to understand them. Separate from the science-fiction aspect of the story, I, for one, can’t imagine what I would do if I were trapped so far underground. Perhaps I would do the same as one who is trapped by such fear.

This film doesn’t strike me as being very Biblically offensive. To paraphrase a professor I once had, 'The movie doesn’t say that what the characters said was right; it just says that they said it.' I would, however, caution adults against letting anyone under, say, 15 or 16 see it; some of the violence is quite strong.
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Peter Jurmu, age 20
Positive—There have been a ton of horror, or suspenseful thriller movies in the last three years or so. It seems like every week, these things are infesting local theatres. There are the teenage, PG-13 horrors: “Cursed”, “Cry Wolf”, “Pulse”, etc. There are big name actress/ great character actor PG-13 supernatural thrillers: “The Ring”, “The Skeleton Key”, “Dark Water”, etc. There are the hard R-rated, darkly grotesque slaughterfests: “Saw” and its new franchise, “The Devil’s Rejects”, and the “Final Destination” movies. Then, there are those few among all of this mindless, senseless drivel that actually do something interesting and are worth seeing. “28 Days Later” is a good example, and now here is “The Descent”, which serves up an intellectually stimulating character situation along with loads, LOADS of gore.

Yes, the idea I have no doubt, was to gross people out quite a bit of the time. And they do. This is a movie in which audience members dare themselves to make it through without looking away. So, yes, there is a lot of violence and gore. The cursing, however, in my opinion, was bout par for the course, particularly given the situation. I think the point is that when you’re running for your life from freaky, weirdly evolved cave monsters, you become less concerned with your usage of profanity. Christian or non-Christian, I don’t think there’s much difference.

But even though the violence was extremely intense and gruesome for much of the movie, it actually wasn’t very gratuitous. I know, that sounds like the statement of a madman; hear me out. First of all, with the exception of the movie’s opening violence, which is very brief, the film makes us wait about 35-40 minutes for anymore. The creatures aren’t even in the picture yet, and that forces the filmmakers to establish suspense WITHOUT violence, and the movie does that very well, particularly in a scene in which the girls must cross a large expanse. We watch, frightened that they will fall. Not an ounce of blood is used. As well, this time is used to set up the characters, yes, but also the mood; the setting; the atmosphere of this cave. It is a very scary place, creatures or no creatures.

The movie is called “The Descent”, and of course, it refers to the descent into the cave. But the movie IS also about the effect this cave and these creatures, and this situation has on these women, particularly on Sarah and Juno. These two women “descend” (you know it’s important because it’s in “quotation marks”) into utter madness. Sarah especially. Once she learns a little more about her past, she becomes another person entirely. In this way, the movie takes on a nice thematic quality about our gut impulses. Sarah has not really reacted to the death of her family, but when she finally does, it is under the worst of all possible situations. That, I say, is dramatically interesting.

And aside from that, the movie stages its action sequences very well. The creatures are frightening and scary, but in a fascinating, utterly watchable way. The violence is often exactly as it would be: it is confusing and frantic and fast, and shadowed. And the scene in which Sarah is chased by one of the creatures (of which there are hundreds!) into a pool of blood, only to emerge totally covered in it was truly horrifying (again, consider the thematic implications here). “The Descent” is not a brilliant picture, but it is a top notch horror movie. And these days, that IS saying something.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4
—Jason Eaken, age 22
Positive—This is a horror masterpiece, and certainly one of the best films of the year. I think evangelical Christians will find it quite thrilling, because of the amazing “descent into hell visuals.” Let’s face it, the strongest elements of Mel Gibson’s eternally flawed “Passion” film were the ominous, hellish images. This film raises those stakes exponentially, and, unlike Gibson’s film, “The Descent” can be appreciated on a multiple of metaphoric levels. But then again, it doesn’t need to be deconstructed for its meanings, it can be appreciated for the shock and awe thrill ride it provides on a very cinematic and visceral level. Not, for the faint of heart, of course, this is a seriously bloody, gut-wrenchingly tense, claustrophobic and nightmarish movie. And it’s a whole lot of fun.
My Ratings: Average / 5
—Peter Davis, age 36
Positive—…an intense, scary, savage, non-exploitive movie. It had a lot of violence, but it wasn’t gory just to be gory (unlike, say, “Kill Bill”, “Hostel”, or “The Hills Have Eyes”). Most of the violence you saw didn’t come from the creatures attacking/eating. It came from natural accidents (the rope slashing the hand, her falling and breaking her leg). This film is definitely NOT for children (or even young teens), but for adults that can handle the F-bomb being dropped quite frequently and violent intensity, you will have a good time. There is absolutely no sexuality/nudity at all.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4
—Q Dawg, age 34
Positive—This was the best movie I have seen in years! I am not a horror fan, but this really drove me over the edge with suspense and feelings of sorrow and pity for the characters. There are many ways to look at this film. Pride comes before the fall, which is evidenced in Juno’s character. A bad character corrupts the moral people. Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I can do this all day. Cain and Abel? Consequences of unrepented sins? Someone else commented that the monsters really didn’t show up until the unity of the group was broken, trust was dashed to pieces by greed and deceit. I have seen this movie twice, and I will be buying the DVD. There’s nothing fanciful or even really impressive; it’s hard to explain. It’s a movie that you have to see for yourself and draw your own conclusions. This movie rocked!
My Ratings: Average / 5
—Lucas Ponce, age 27
Positive—One big question for me: Did this really happen or was it one of Sarah’s post trauma hallucinations? Remember her dream where she was running down the hospital corridor and the lights were going off? Perhaps it ALL was a dream, brought on by the double trauma of the death of her family and the fact that Juno and her husband were having an affair.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 5
—Jennifer A, age 30
Positive—This is the best horror film that I have seen in years! YEARS! It’s one of the smartest, most suspenseful films that I have seen in a long time. The characters are well developed, and the atmosphere and scenery all go together to form one of the most frightening experiences that I’ve ever had in a theatre. Yes, the violence is extreme. Yes, there is lots of foul language. It’s a horror film, people. Don’t go into this expecting PG-13 jump scares, because you’ll be shocked if you do! Simply put, if you want scares, you got em. …
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 5
—Adam Renkovish, age 24
Positive—I was extremely impressed with this film, although it was extremely violent. At first I did not want to see this movie at all, they advertised it as being produced by the same people who produced “Hostile” and “Saw.” I haven’t seen either one, but I know both are about bodily mutilation and torture, and I wasn’t interested in seeing that. But when I discovered that “The Descent” was written and directed by the same guy who wrote and directed a little known movie called “Dog Soldiers,” I became excited. I really liked what he did with “Dog Soldiers” (I own it), and, therefore, I went to see “The Descent” in the theaters.

Before I saw, I read about what the director wanted to do with it. He wanted it to be claustrophobic and wanted to do something similar that the first “Alien” movie did. And, let me tell you, he succeeded. It is very claustrophobic and quite similar to the movie “Alien.” “The Descent” focuses on character development for a long time, then, once the six women enter the cave, it focuses on the real life struggles of being in a cave. Only when it can’t seem to get any worse (cave-in, injury, original way out is blocked, no one coming because they didn’t tell anyone where they were) the creatures come, and… that’s bad because they eat people.

I really liked this movie, because I enjoy good horror. I don’t like torture or bodily mutilation, but for some reason I’m okay with creatures or monsters trying to eat or kill people, and vice versa. And that’s what happens. Right away, the women fight back, and, although some of them get eaten and die, the few that are left have a stand off and it’s, I gotta say, awesome. The main thing I liked about this movie was it wasn’t the stupid horror movies we’re used to, where people get naked and have sex for no reason, where people are stupid and make stupid decisions and get dead because of it. Yes, the main characters are women, but there is nothing sexual or sensual in this movie, unless women covered in blood, killing flesh-eating monsters is a turn on for you.

There isn’t anything in this movie that is spiritual or religious, but there is a sense of morality, but not the good kind. I’ll explain. To me, and I think the writer did this on purpose, the title has a double meaning. Not only are these six women descending into the actual Earth, going into the caves, one of the characters (I won’t tell ya who!) descends deep into a place where morality has no barring just as the creatures seem to have done. (A short scene has the women talking about the possibility that the creatures are descendents from cave men, but have evolved and adapted to the caves). This movie was good, although very violent. Almost no sexuality (I can’t remember any nudity or anything else and I’m very sensitive to that), and I’m sure some swear words and the Lord’s name taken in vain, but I don’t remember where or how much.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 4
—Nathan R. Carlsen, age 25
Positive—Wow! I was really impressed with The Descent. It was the first horror film in a long time (“Wolf Creek” being the last) to actually be creepy and not resort to cheesy methods. The story is good and while the characters might not be fully developed, you get an idea of what most of them are about. The direction was also great, because, while the movie is about being in a cave, 2 miles below earth where it’s pitch black, you never lose track of what’s happening. The outdoor scenes are good too, along with all of the action and intense moments.

From a Christian view, while the movie does have loads of violence and cursing, it doesn’t stoop to the level of many recent films on either level. The film presents 6 women fighting for there lives against psychotic enemies, so the violence is almost nessessary. Again, there is a lot of cursing, but not to the point of being over the top. There is NO sex and NO nudity and NO sexual conversations which is another plus for anyone sensitive to those situations. I think overall that “The Descent” was a great horror movie that was really overlooked at theater and that anyone mature enough to watch an R-rated movie and who likes horror films would LOVE it!
My Ratings: Offensive / 5
—Mike, age 27
Neutral—I liked the movie, let me start with that. Going into this movie, I would expect you to know a few things. (1. There is going to be violence/gore, (2. it is going to be scary, and (3. it wasn’t made for a young audience. If you keep those in mind and still want to see it, just be warned that the violence is extreme, as well as the graphic gore. And the language was rampant throughout the movie, even so in parts not involving monsters eating people. I can’t really recomend this movie for anyone with a weak stomach, but if you’re in the mood to see a movie about a bunch of girls going down into a cave and end up fighting against huminoid monsters that eat people… look no further.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4½
—Daniel Robison, age 18