The Descent
THE CAVE. 2005
Director: Bruce Hunter

Director: Neil Marshall

Director: Olatunde Osunsanmi

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The CaveThe Cave (2005) is a slick horror film despite its cast of unknowns & a slow start.

By the time the main players get into the underground world of caverns, the pace & horrific beauty of the film never flags.

Skin-diving spelunkers have found a closed ecosystem with a food chain starting at the bottom with white algae & at the top, well, hideous creatures whose form & nature easily explains all the myths of leather-winged fallen angels that torture the dead.

The CaveIt's in the main a dead-serious monster flick. But it has a bit more going for it even than well done monsters.

A production crew of cave photographers provided footage of the real deal, a lot of underground river scuba diving through super-eerie environments that actually exist.

No underground adventure film has ever been this convincing because it never started with stuff that was this real & this well photographed.

It also has a genuinely strange story of transformation & a spooky "hero" played with disturbing grace by Cole Hauser, the only actor to provide a memorable characterization.

The science fictional idea of the universal parasite that made this uniquely appalling ecosystem possible provides an extra spark of the horrific. For lowbrow exciting escapist fun, The Cave delivers.

The DescentI really expected The Descent (2005) with it's mostly-gals cast to be a sort of Babes in Cave-land with busty maidens in swim suits spelunking merrily to hell. It's actually a lot better than that.

A driver not watching the road plows into a car parked at the roadside & graphically impales himself. Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) wakes in the hospital screaming for Jessie, the daughter (Molly Kayll) who was in the back seat.

Last Sarah knew she was a wife & mother. Now she's a widow with no kid. She does have friends, however, especially Juno (Natalie Mendoza) who has a rather strange notion of how to help Sarah bounce back from depression.

Apparently Juno was Sarah's best friend before marriage & they did everything together including I guess outdoor adventures. They grew apart after Sarah married, not least because of the suspicion that Juno was having an affair with Sarah's husband.

One year after the loss of her family, Sarah sets out with a group of women for the Appalachians for a girl-buddy adventure in cave exploration led by Juno who has a butch streak & a hint muscle definition that Natalie Mendoza was able to acquire in a hurry, probably by pumping iron for a very few weeks before the film shoot began.

If not for the opening scenes before Sarah's husband crashed the car, when she flirts with a married dad, you'd swear Juno was carrying a torch for Sarah. But maybe she's just trying to recapture some adolescent buddyhood thing from their shared youth, & going about it in a manner guaranteed to get someone killed.

She's told these women they're going to be exploring a "level B" cave, which would've been a cake-walk. In reality she has found out about an unexplored cave in the worst hinterland of Appalachia (actually Scotland) so that it's not a matter of if, but when they start dying off.

The DescentJuno supposedly wants women to be the first ever to explore the cave & then name it for herself & Sarah, or some such nonsense.

There wouldn't've had to be carniverous cave-monkeys for things to go wrong under these nutso circumstances. Such badly prepared amateur spelunkers who've left no clues back in civilization as to where they went are just naturally going to be in trouble.

So a bunch of girls prepared only for a jolly tourist event are on their way to the Gates of Dis & nobody warned them the chances of it being dangerous were a hundred percent. That's enough that I'd categorize Juno a sociopath, whether or not the script acknowledges it.

Of the six girls heading into the caves, only three manage much in the way of character dilineation, & even depressed Sarah is often hard to tell from the other girls in the dim light dirtied up. If ever a cast cried out for color-coded hair-dos or hats, this blandly interchangeable cast is it.

Juno with her generic ethnicity stands out & Juno's current girlfriend Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) stands out, a semi-goth retro-punk adventure-babe who can say "shyte" & whom Juno calls her protege, I'd assume lover.

The other women (MyAnna Buring as Sam, Alex Reid as Beth, & Saskia Mulder as Rebecca) are just Miscellaneous Victims of the Descent. The acting is competent (unlike in most cheap horror) but the script didn't provide six character variations on paper, & the women can't do it by the force of their fairly ordinary talents.

Doffing a few items of clothing along the way for increased sex appeal, Juno inappropriately clad in halter top leads the spelunkers. But heck, give the writer-director credit for not having them all get stark raving naked.

The DescentThe first scream is for a totally unconvincing flock of CGI bats, so moronic that I momentarily despaired of the film being watchable.

Fortunately the six women never quite turn into mere scream-queens. They kvetch at each other too much in lieu of having character traits, but at least they're focused on their predicament rather than just screaming all the time.

When a crawl-tunnel collapses behind them they know they're screwed. Nothing to do but press on & hope there's another way out. They come to an area of the caves with lots of Cro-Magnon artwork & that's quite lovely though meaningless to the story. They additionally find evidence of previous explorers but the equipment is antique.

Holly falls down a big toilet hole, breaks her leg. Sarah spots what she thought was a man. Everyone thinks she's hallucinating because the dark will do that to you, plus she's depressed & on meds. The main goal at present is to lug Holly along with her busted leg, & they don't need any crap about a spooky little man hiding in the dark.

But then everyone sees it: a blind albino manlike ape that can climb walls fast as a spider. It leaps on Holly, bites out her throat, & fights the others for possession of the fresh kill. When Juno injures it, it makes a terrible cry for help & a second one attacks. Juno battles & kills them but is in such a panic that she spins around with her knife & slashes one of the other women across the throat.

Two dead monsters. Two dead women. The other women mostly ran off frightened into the three-way cavern so they're separated. Sarah is trapped in a meat pit with lots of carion dragged into the cavern from above, including human corpses. She tries to be perfectly still because the cave-monkeys are blind & can only find things by hearing, including dead meat apparently.

The woman Juno accidentally killed turns out not to be dead. She wakes up in the meat pile. Sarah kills her to put her out of her misery. There are many more gore-hound moments up to & including an absurd pit of blood deep enough for Sarah & a couple cave-monkeys to go swimming.

Having used up all their best bits without any idea of how to have a climax, it ends with Sarah killing her pal Juno for having slept with her husband. The trite murderer is the only woman who gets out alive. But realizing this was a pretty bad ending, it is followed by a completely ridiculous "never mind!" coda that I won't bother to explain, but believe me, it's dumb.

If there'd been better character deliniation for all the women who went into the cave, it could've been first-rate cheapy-ass trash-horror. Even as it stands, I'd expected worse, but the acting is better than can usually be expected from cliche gore horror, & some of the images of women trying to get through it alive are pretty tough. So I managed to enjoy The Descent, idiotic coda notwithstanding.

Jettisoning the ill-conceived original title WIthIN in favor of the totaly generic but at least not childishly partial-caps WIthIN this film was released to dvd as The Cavern 2005, the third & by far the worst of the cave-horrors-of-the-year.

The CavernHeaded for caverns of an uncharted region of Central Asia, which looks exactly like a nice safe park in Simi Valley, California, eight daring spelunkers go where no bats have gone before. No one knows they went there, & they're such a bargain box of morons, very likely no one cares.

One guy is a nurdy writer pretending to hae seven years experience so that the "expert" cave explorers would let him come along to research his book. What a relief it will be when he finally gets dragged backward down a crawl-tube never to be seen again.

The overlong first act is full of campfire tales as the amateur journalist conducts retarded interviews without bothering to take notes or record anything, not that he's going to live long enough to make stuff up for a book anyway.

Try hard to enjoy the slow dull campfire tales, because it's as much characterization as you're going to get, & when it gets down to the action, it'll be even more boring.

The cinematography is flat & third-rate but sometimes this works in the film's favor, as it did for Blair Witch, especially when they finally get round to going in the cavern & the shaky camera only captures wobbling light & darkness so that during much of what's going on you can't tell what's going on. This was as much fun as strobe lights in a Halloween haunted house tricked out by fourteen year olds raising funds for chess club. And I'm not making fun of that, it's the film's main strength.

Two of the spelunkers sneak out of the campsite to have sex in the cave. They hear a noise. Then theyy finish having sex. That's it, just an intrusion of tits & ass cuz hey, nothing else interesting is going to happen.

At long, long last the cave exploring begins. Up until now the acting has been better than expected & characterization almost commendable -- better than the cinematography certainly -- but that's all over now. In the film's favor, they are dressed for actual spelunking rather than for beefcake & cheesecake interest.

It also has a reasonably moody soundscape, & the cavern itself isn't phony looking, though neither is it sufficiently pictorial that the dvd distributor wanted any images from the film spoiling the front of the box. Drawings on dvd boxes are always preferred for films without even one frame with enough visual impact to function as a "come-hither" for horror fans.

You can almost see that a good-enough film was almost within the writer's & the director's grasp, but somehow good-enough never happened.

The cast is soon being stalked by something unseen. It rips out the rope they used to descend straight down into a pit, so they're stuck. When a huge boulder is moved slowly, slowly over the top of the pit like a lid, "oh my god" was exactly the right piece of dialogue. Enjoy that moment most of all, as it's a lot spookier than the alleged climax is going to be.

Indeed, if you stop watching the film right at the point of the giant boulder capping the pit, you might be able to keep the illusion that the film was almost competently done. You can make up the rest of what happens in your own imagination & it'll be lots better if you're not very imaginative.

One chap, Domingo (Andres Saenz-Hudson), was earlier introduced as the son of a brujo (sorcerer), & himself a mystic about the nature of caverns. He's potentially the most interesting character, so of course he gets killed first in the cavern, since we can't have anyone standing about who we might actually be able to care about.

The black dude was pretty cool around the campfire but as a leader in the caverns he's a total wash. The whining & whinging over & over again with maddenly redundant dialogue -- made me feel like it would be a good thing if they're all doomed, the sooner the better.

I watch a lot of garbagy horror films because I am capable of enjoying them. And I was enjoying parts of this cheap piece of junk for a while. But as it progressed & got worse & worse, I began to doubt the eventual "reveal" was going to be worth my patience.

Hooboy was my suspicion correct. For the longest time all we know is, whatever it is, it stalks & kills & it's strong enough to move enormous boulders & if you shoot it a bunch of times it'll only be unconscious for a minute. None of which is going to make any sense when the reveal finally occurs.

At that point when they think they killed it with multiple gunshot wounds, one guy wades through the water to poke at it, always a smart move. We still don't get to see much, but the guy describes it as part wolf & part bear. Wrong. It actually looks like a shag carpet floating on the surface of the water.

[SPOILER ALERT] The shag carpet (Johnnie Colter) leaps up & kills the guy who won't be missed. And then everything that led up to that dumb moment is pretty much repeated. When just the two girls are left alive, it sure wasn't because they were smart or strong, so I figure, oh heck, probably it's a neanderthal man or a sasquatch & he needs a couple screamer babes for sex.

But that wouldn't be stupid enough so the monster is actually just Tarzan gone wrong. And far from saving the two girls alive for mating purposes, it's just so he can wig out on them & mash them to pulps in a bad imitation of a climax. [END SPOILER ALERT]

I feel like a bit of a meany being honest about the film since it was made by beginners on their own dime. They risked their own money & did the best job they could manage. It's so hard to make a movie, & so easy to lose your shirt making the attempt, that they deserve some sort of credit, though I can only muster up an F for Effort.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

[ Film Home ] - [ Film Reviews Index ]
[ Where to Send DVDs for Review ] - [ Paghat's Giftshop ]