Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Descent (2006)

Dog Soldiers was a promising debut, and Neil Marshall's latest film lives up to that promise. He's the real deal -- The Descent is the best pure spook show I've seen in a theater in at least a year. Anybody can put together a loud noise and a sudden visual jolt to goose the audience, and Marshall does indulge himself on that front. He is, however, far more accomplished in the setups and timing of his shock moments than most modern directors, many of whom telegraph their punches like glassjawed boxers, but that's not what makes the film stick. It's not boo scenes that make memorable horror movies (though the ones here are fantastically handled, especially the first major jump involving the infrared camera), and aside from the standard-issue jump scenes, Marshall has the good sense to build up a palpable sensation of foreboding. He also makes extraordinary use of his settings (the claustrophobic will have a tough time here) and runs all the way home with the low-level lighting, thus driving home the feel of the unseen and the eerie. It's almost a relief when the second half starts giving us the scares in earnest, as it allows some of the tension to blow off. Also, kudos are due for the asskicking-bitch characters. (Why is it so hard for modern horror directors to allow their walking Spam to be fierce, intelligent and self-reliant? Oh yeah, because then you'd actually have to know how to write.) Why this film isn't the biggest sleeper of the summer is beyond me, but it should have a healthy lifespan on video. It damn well better.

Grade: B+


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