Potholing. Can there be a more pointless past-time known to Man ?other than watching BIG BROTHER or listening to the second Lighthouse Family album? I mean, what? the point? Why dress up like the Michellin Man just to climb down a hole in the ground and then get stuck in it? Still, it takes all sorts?n

Writer/director Neil Marshall, who made a huge impact a couple of years back with his big scary werewolf flick DOG SOLDIERS, has taken this most ludicrous of activities and used to it to craft not only a good British horror film but also ?wait for it ?the best horror film of the year. THE DESCENT proves that Marshall wasn? just a one-hit wonder; here? a director with real vision and imagination, a rare talent with the potential to breathe new life into an often predictable genre.

THE DESCENT starts as it means to go on. Within five minutes there? a couple of bloody and shocking deaths and the film never eases up on the tension and sense of creeping terror from hereon. When Sarah (MacDonald) loses her husband and young daughter in a ghastly car accident, her friends rally round and, a year later, take her on a pot-holing expedition in the Appallachian Mountains. A couple of the girls are a bit sceptical about their voyage into a familiar tourist potholing network and Juno (Mendoza) leads them into a previously-unexplored hole in the ground. They?e in trouble pretty quickly and a sudden cave-in leaves them trapped two miles below the surface desperate to make their way back to the daylight. But they?e not alone in the caves; there? something nasty and drooling and carnivorous down there with them?n

We?e in familiar territory here, of course. A group of defenceless innocents trapped in an intense location being picked off one by one by gruesome monsters. Marshall? clever twist is to put a bunch of women in peril and trap them underground ?and it? this gloomy, cold, dark environment which really makes THE DESCENT work. Despite the bloodshed and the gore it? the simple claustrophobia which really unsettles. The scene where Sarah gets a panic attack while trapped in a narrow rock fissure is the scariest moment of the film because MacDonald plays it so well and Marshall? tight direction makes the audience feel genuinely uncomfortable. Later on one character takes a tumble and suffers an injury which leaves bloodied bone sticking out of her leg ?the entire audience winces and groans and feels her pain. Scenes like these pack a more emotional punch than later slaughterhouse sequences where the Crawlers ?the Gollum-like underground dwellers ?go on the rampage, probably because they?e more real and identifiable. We can all imagine being trapped underground unable to breathe ?it? a disturbing and nightmarish concept. Adding monsters to the mix is almost a relief because it takes us into the realm of the fantastical and we know we?e just watching a piece of quality horror cinema. Oddly enough THE DESCENT would have been scary enough just as a movie about woman potholers trapped underground; in some ways it didn? need the Crawlers.

THE DESCENT benefits enormously by being populated by a cast you?e never heard of ?bar one of the woman who appeared in a fairly obscure Channel 4 comedy called THE BOOK GROUP. As a consequence the audience is never able to second-guess the script and work out who ?if anyone ?will survive. The entire cast throw themselves into their roles with huge gusto ?with Mendoza particularly impressive as Juno, quickly transformed into a one-woman killing machine when the Crawlers attack en masse. Marshall? tight, realistic script quickly establishes the characters as more than just monster-fodder and there? a nicely-underplayed emotional subplot which adds extra frisson to the death of Sarah? family. Already establishing himself as a film-maker who likes to avoid dreary clich?Marshall? masterstroke comes right at the end of the movie, leaving the audience with a palpable sense of hopelessness where, moments earlier, there? been a blessed relief at the end of the nightmare. If you?e any interest in the horror genre or just an interest in good film-making you need to put THE DESCENT on your must-see list.

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