Friday, August 04, 2006

 

Scream Queens Fight Back in horrifying ‘The Descent’


Their screams feel real not so much because the script is high literature but more so because it’s what you would do in a similar situation. “The Descent,” the horrific new monster tale from British director Neil Marshall, made a cold January night at the Sundance Film Festival feel even colder the first time I watched it. Better yet, it turned a recent press screening on a sweltering July afternoon into a breeder of goose bumps. Marshall’s film, a clever twist on the Screaming Mimi stereotype, makes chills no matter where one watches it.
A group of athletic female friends (Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Saskia Mulder among others) reunite in the Appalachian Mountains for a cave expedition. The sperlunking trip is meant to invigorate damaged friendships, test their physical skills and discover a new cave. But fanged monsters await the women, who shriek and run like countless scream queens before them. Then, something fascinating happens. The woman stand tall, fight back and show the monsters that women with the right stuff can save themselves.
Marshall, creator of the cult favorite werewolf thriller Dog Soldiers, takes full advantage of the film’s creepy backdrop, the narrow passages far underground in an unmarked Appalachian cave. He fills the caves with the perfect beasties, a tribe of fanged, pasty-skinned man-beasts desperate to tear at the flesh of the women adventurers.
Still, what sets “The Descent” apart, what makes it one of the summer’s best surprises, is the way he twists his scream queens into rough and rugged heroines. Midway into “The Descent,” the women learn that if anyone is going to save them, they’re going to have to do it themselves. At that moment, “The Descent” evolves from a fun scream show to a scream show that’s fun and smart.

“The Descent” made its North American premiere at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Lions Gate Films will release it in theaters across America August 4.

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