Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Duality Of "The Descent"

The Duality Of "The Descent"
DVD review by Alan Green
January 14, 2007

Since the DVD of "The Descent" was recently released I thought I'd reprint my movie review from August 2006 -- ag.

In the poster for the movie "The Descent" (which is based on a photograph by Philippe Halsman in collaboration with Salvador Dali) we see six women whose bodies form a skull. The skull can be interpreted to mean death, so the relationship between these women must also represent the death of something. Here, I think it's honesty, or being true to yourself and others--as when we descend into duplicity. While these women cling to each other for support, this intimacy is the source of their pain because each deceives the others and themselves. All the women, except one, have their heads bowed and face hidden--suggesting shame in who they are. The woman whose face can be seen is screaming, possibly because (although she does turn her face as far away from us and her skullmates as possible) she is still facing us and cannot hide her duplicity and is crying out in shame (or horror of her relationship with the others).

This poster encapsulates the themes of "The Descent"; what we truly are is hidden beneath the surface and, because we are not true to ourselves, our relationship with others is duplicitous and creates a cycle of destruction. This is played out nicely after our six women go down into the cave where they grapple not only with fanged flesh-eating albino freaks called 'Crawlers', but their own true natures, and their betrayals of each other and themselves, when they are forced to make horrific choices as they fight for survival.

While "The Descent" is about the dichotomy of human nature, the movie itself is also split into two distinct halves. In the first half the suspense builds quickly after the women enter the cave and we find ourselves floating along with them in subterranean blackness. The only light comes from the lamps on their helmets, and watching these white spots dance in the dark quickly disorients the audience and we're left unsure how far away objects are or in which direction things are moving--a fine soup for horror-movie creepiness. Character builds quickly as well. Writer-Director Neil Marshall never stops for long expository dialogue, preferring to expose traits by immediately putting the women in danger when one of two known exits from the cave collapses. This would not normally present a problem except, because of a certain lack of full disclosure, the women find they are not where they were told they would be and must now ad lib their way out of an uncharted cave. This sets the stage for an animosity that, as the situation gets worse, builds until it reaches a psychological tautness (and some pretty serious betrayal) not usually found in gory horror flicks.

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