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The Descent

Starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone, MyAnna Burig
Written and Directed by Neil Marshall

IN SHORT: As gory as it is gruesome, it will hold you to your seat . . .. [Rated R. 99 minutes]

. . . If you get through the first ten minutes or so of The Descent -- a flashback sequence involving mom dad and kidlet -- you'll know whether or not you've bought the wrong ticket. There are three kinds of "horror" movies we can describe -- the authentically scary ones that hold the gore off screen for most of the time; the slice 'n' dice flicks that revel in how graphic their slicing can get; and total gross out things like The Descent, in which guts are ripped out with bare hands and death comes in more gruesome ways than in the usual "horror" flick

Cranky uses the quotation marks because he's an old fart to whom "horror" doesn't necessarily mean full color graphic disembowelment in all of its glory. The aforementioned flashback sequence doesn't involve disembowelment . . . which doesn't mean we didn't feel like tossing up our cookies when the payoff hit. We didn't toss or feel like it as the shock value was far too great. The Descent almost pushes that particular button too many times, which you'll understand if you watch it, but we did manage to sit through the thing until the very end and the one disappointing misstep in the story, IOHO but if you make it that far, our opinion about it doesn't matter a whit.

Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), her husband and daughter begin the flick enjoying some rural vacation time somewhere in Scotland with some of her best girl friends. We're sure about the location, not about the reason for being in the Land of Kilts since the whole point of the first sequence is to get Sarah single and introduce us to some of the femme friends who will eventually feel real bad about how things turn out.

Ten minutes on the story has progressed a year. Sarah is ready for another vacation, this time across the pond, somewhere in the Appalachians of North Carolina. There she and the five friends are going to commune with nature, bitch about men, and explore previously unknown, unexplored and unmapped caverns. OK, everyone who already knows what lurks in the Appalachian Mountains raise your hand! Wrong! That's what lives on the mountain. We're about to go deep underneath where the only light is phosphorous or battery powered and the creatures featured are more like cannibalistic Gollums than friendly ol' slugs and things squishy.

Juno (Natalie Mendoza) is the ersatz leader of the gang. She has picked the cave, tossed away the maps and not bothered to let the local authorities know their plans, because then they could come looking for 'em if something goes wrong and that would definitely put the kibosh on the excitement factor. Right?? So, into the caverns and caves our sixtet of hot, young ladies goes a spelunking. If we haven't mentioned Rebecca (Saskia Mulder) and her half-sister Sam (MyAnna Burig) or Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) or Beth (Alex Reid). it's because, well, in films like this everyone is dispensable and disposable and other words that begin with the letter "d" like 'doomed'.. All of the ladies will get their moment in the sun, so to speak, and the writer/director's determination to keep it all real means that pain and terror virtually radiates from the big screen.

We haven't gotten to the horror, yet. First, an unexpected rock slide cuts off the anticipated exit route from inside the mountain.That's OK, we're told. There are at least two other ways out of the mountain, all detailed in the book that Juno has left in the glove compartment of her car. But that's not the big conflict here. Nosireebob! Deep within the caverns live a dozen or so evolutionarily mutated cannibal humans -- whose reason for being is passed over so quickly that you'd better go hunting out the 'net site. (A major failing in our book). Said cannibals are more than happy to sniff out the fresh meat for supper and, once found, disembowel with all the enthusiasm of a child ripping the wrapping off a Christmas present. The weapons, so to speak, are biologically based, The killings are quite repulsive and stomach turning.

Which means all that's left is escape and/or those three D's. There's no point putting the usual dollar rating on The Descent, because it's hard core horror. You know what you like. If watching entrails twirled like rodeo lariats does it for you . . . well that'll be a good idea for the sequel. The Descent so freaked out the other guys we saw it in the teeny tiny screening room that the surprise sound of a toilet seat slamming down, this after we all ran for the john after the end credits, had 'em screaming.


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