“It’s all about a descent into madness,” offers writer/director Neil Marshall on the Making Of, with more than a hint of a glint. “I’d always wanted to make a horror film in a cave. And you can’t get any darker than down there.”
None more black, indeed. The Descent ain’t no stroll round Superdrug. It’s murky stuff – both in look and theme (infidelity, bereavement, resentment). A gaggle of gal thrill-seekers (“We all agreed: if there’s no risk there’s no point”) clamber down into an uncharted cave network. They squabble, get lost, injured... And then realise they’re not alone.
Marshall isn’t bothered about sorting the sassy lassies from the alpha females. By drawing the attack/defend action into an increasingly constrained world, he gradually swaddles his heroines – and us – in the psychological straitjacket of claustrophobia. When there’s no chance of fight or flight, the only thing left is pure panic.
In the ace, party-atmosphere yak-track, Marshall admits to a three-way inspiration (“The Shining, Alien and Deliverance”). But, beneath the pulsing John Carpenter-style score and playful Kubrick shot-swipes, he brings his own unique edge. The tense, tetchy kick-off is steadily cranked to the final half-hour’s flurry of kinks, jinks and sucker-punches. “It’s all based on my ‘flaky pastry’ theory”, explains Marshall – that is, spicing things up more and more, layer after layer, holding out on the meat until the final bite.
For a second feature, The Descent is a confident, rangey and nasty piece of work. Gore-hunters will get their fix, but, as the ending’s emotional bombshell confirms, it’s much more than the sum of its body parts.