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DESCENT, THE: DVD

SYNOPSIS:
A year after a tragic accident six female friends reunite in a remote part of the Appalachians for their annual adventure holiday. Still traumatised by the past, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is determined to take part in the caving expedition led by Juno (Natalie Mendoza). Disaster strikes when a rockfall blocks their passage to the surface and Juno reveals she has led them into unchartered territory without notifying authorities. The situation intensifies when the women realise they are not alone. A group of hideously mutated human-like creatures is stalking them.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
Unlikely to ever win endorsement from the Appalachians Chamber of Commerce, The Descent deserves to win the patronage of anyone who wants to see a film that delivers on its promise to scare the living daylights out of you. Taking its cues from Deliverance and Death Line (aka Raw Meat), a little-seen British horror about mutants in the London underground, The Descent is easily the best thriller of the year.

What separates this exercise in mounting dread from the pack is its sharp ability to create fear from an external source and magnify it through the emotional complexities of characters in peril. This it does with shrewd economy in an opening scene set one year before the fateful caving expedition we're later plunged into.

Little in the way of traditional character set-up and expository dialogue is offered, yet within a few minutes we have an intriguing picture of the dynamics within this group of women from all corners of the world whose connection is an interest in extreme adventure. First there's Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) whose traumatic experience in the set-up plays a critical role in the survival game and the game-within-the-game involving secrets her friends have taken below ground.

Then there's alpha female (if such a term exists) Juno, ferociously played by Natalie Mendoza, a little-known Australian actress deserving to be anything but after this. No mere lambs to the slaughter, Scandinavian half-sisters Rebecca and Sam (Saskia Mulder and MyAnna Buring), schoolteacher Beth (Alex Reid), and daredevil Holly (Nora Jane Noone) are substantial characters whose grisly ends pack an emotional as well as visceral punch. Finally, beneath the earth are cave dwellers so hideously malformed they look like rejects from The Hills Have Eyes family.

After his promising werewolf-in-the-highlands debut Dog Soldiers, director Neil Marshall has upped his skills several notches to deliver a tight, taut and incredibly tense time underground. Making full use of the widescreen frame he offers everything from Cliffhanger-type thrills as the women negotiate treacherous drops to certain death, to full-blown horror as the mutants scuttle about like Spider-man in search of prey. I make no bones about it - and I use that expression advisedly in light of the final reel showdown - The Descent is a gut-wrenching thrill ride and one of the spookiest times you'll ever have in the dark. If Neil Marshall can resist the temptation to ruin his career in Hollywood he could just be the saviour of modern horror.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

DESCENT, THE: DVD (MA)
(UK, 2005)

CAST: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Molly Kayll, MyAnna Buring, Craig Conway, Stephen Lamb, Oliver Milburn, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone

PRODUCER: Christian Colson

DIRECTOR: Neil Marshall

SCRIPT: Neil Marshall

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sam McCurdy

EDITOR: Jon Harris

MUSIC: David Julyan

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Simon Bowles

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 23, 2006

PRESENTATION: widescreen

SPECIAL FEATURES: None

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Icon

DVD RELEASE: August 6, 2007







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