The Descent begins with a bloody car crash. And it ends with a bloody revenge killing. In between, six women go spelunking. With bloody results.
"The Descent is a movie for those who felt that Tarantino's Kill Bill movies needed more blood and that the torture scenes in Hostel were too toned down," writes Kate Findley on Emanuel Levy's review site. And in doing so, Findley nearly renders all other reviews superfluous.
You wouldn't think this film had it in it to generate such raw comparisons if you walked in unawares during the first half hour. But one year after the outdoorsy Sarah loses her husband and daughter in that car accident, she agrees to join up with a few of her best girlfriends to explore a cave in the Appalachian mountains. It's the last cave she'll ever want to venture into. Because waiting inside is ... something. Something that, you might say, has seen one too many Alien movies and has come to hate Ripley. In this case, Sarah and Co. will stand in just fine.
When Sarah is separated from the rest of the women, several of them refuse to seek safety without finding her first.
The girls theorize that the creatures they encounter have "evolved" to live and thrive in the inky blackness of their cave-homes. What they evolved from they never hazard a guess. Upon arriving in Appalachia, one woman expresses disgust that the only thing on the radio is "mud, blood, beer or sweet Jesus."
An indecipherable joke about orgasms is told. It's implied (via obscure conversation and non-sexual images) that one woman had been having an affair with another's husband. The f-word is used in a sexual context. Crude slang is, on one occasion, assigned to a sexual body part.
What separates The Descent from Hostel is that here the torture is mostly being carried out by nameless, nearly faceless, freakish creations (they're humanoid, but not once is it implied that they are human) who are just doing what they do best, eating dinner. Hostel dives into the depths of human depravity that results in (and revels in) both the evisceration of body and soul. The Descent leaves motivation and intent completely out of it, and instead trains the camera on the flailing fragility of the human frame. That is not to say that The Descent is somehow a more fit form of entertainment than the Saws of the world, of course. Merely that it is a different form.
And this is the form it takes: blood, blood, blood, blood, blood and more blood. Most disturbing (much more than the frenetic zombie-esque feeding of the creatures) is a "mercy killing" committed by Sarah. The film condemns Juno for accidentally stabbing one of her mates in the neck and then (crazed by fear) running away. But it seems to commend Sarah for putting the nearly dead girl out of her misery. Later, Sarah effectively murders one of her friends who has betrayed her by savagely crippling her and leaving her to be finished off cavebeast style. (From blond beauty to Lord of the Flies in an hour and a half.)
As for other specifics, I'll be merciful and boil things down to a short overview. Heads are bitten completely off. Throats are torn out. Faces are smashed in. Torsos are shredded. Bones are broken and protrude through skin. Pickaxes penetrate skulls and are then wrenched slowly out. A pond of blood awaits at the bottom of one cavern. As do the piled-up bones and partially devoured corpses of past feasts. The film's opening car wreck shows metal pipes stab through a man.
Crude or Profane Language
About 40 f-words and close to 20 s-words. Jesus' name is exclaimed (usually in fear) a half-dozen times. God's name comes up inappropriately a few more times than that. Milder profanities are also used.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The night before the expedition, the women drink beer (some of them drink a lot) and a joint is smoked by at least two of them.
Other Negative Elements
The anatomically human-like cave beasties are naked. The breasts of one female are seen, and arms, legs and torsos flit across the frame. But the dim lighting and the grime and gore in which they're covered obscures almost everything else.
There's been a bit of buzz surrounding The Descent's feminist undercurrent. After all, it's six women who tackle the underground, and there's nary a macho man around to bail them out while the bailing's good. But this bloodbath doesn't aspire to climb up on a sociopolitical soapbox. It aspires to be a ... bloodbath.
It almost makes me wish there were all sorts of nefariously encoded messages I could dissect and dissertate upon. But alas, a bloodbath is as a bloodbath does. There's no subtlety in watching blind grotesqueries feasting upon females. Neither is there any subtlety or even much style in the way director Neil Marshall throws in all manner of jump scenes (the ones the make you jump in your seat), be they cheap, expensive or just plain out of nowhere for no discernable reason.
In the DVD extras for Final Destination 3, Anthony Timpone, editor of the horror movie fanzine Fangoria said this: "I've been surprised at how sadistic some of these films are becoming and what they're getting away with. It's a case of one-upmanship now with the Hollywood filmmakers [asking], 'How far can we go before the audience has had enough and is just totally disgusted and doesn't want to see these films anymore?'" I, for one, cried uncle years ago. And in an informal online poll of Plugged In readers, 85 percent said they're disgusted enough with horror movies to now snub "most" or "all" of them. If the likes of The Descent aren't vile enough to make everybody else feel the same way, I'm not sure they ever will.