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The Descent

(2005, Marshall)
A film from the 2000s

"Sarah, the worst thing that can happen to you has already happened. Itís over, and youíre here. You didnít give up. This is just a poxy little cave. Youíve got nothing left to be afraid of."

Trauma is a life-altering experience. Whether it's an accident, an assault, the loss of a home, or a loved one, it's hard or maybe even impossible to fully recover. A lot of people that have lived through it say that you just learn to live with it and carry on. That is more or less the situation that Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) finds herself at the start of this hit British horror film.

The Descent follows Sarah, who is trying to recover from a tragic and traumatic accident. To help her with that, her friends organize a spelunking expedition into a remote cave. Led by the adventurous Juno (Natalie Mendoza), the group of five women go deeper and deeper not knowing that what awaits them might be worse than anything they've faced outside; or is it?

I suppose that at this point, most people know the "twist" on the film, but if you wanna walk in blind, then read no more. For those that do, you know that the film's first half amps you up with the claustrophobia and fear of being stuck in a cave, but pushes things to 11 once it adds the threat of being eaten by hordes of cannibal humanoids. This is what puts these women in full "survivor" mode as they try to get out alive.

I saw this film in theaters with my wife back in the day, and I credit it with having one of the best jumpscares I've ever experienced from a film. But beyond the excellent scares and thrills of the film, which are many, the film's biggest strength is in putting excellent characters that we care for up front. Even though the film really doesn't spend much time with the characters before they go in the cave, the way Marshall builds them up paired with the performances is great.

From the claustrophobia of being stuck in a cave, to the rising tensions between the group, and finally, the fear of being literally eaten alive, the director and the cast handle all these fears in a way that feels organic and effective. The story does get a bit muddied as it gets into the last act, but it still makes a strong point on how trauma can be an oppressive and engulfing force.

I've always held this as being the best horror film of the 2000s, and probably one of the best of the new millennium. My wife loves it, and has seen it numerous times, and even she had to bail out this time after the scene where Sarah gets stuck in the tunnel. Me? I braved it all, but was fidgeting and squirming through that scene; and that was just a poxy little cave. There was still a lot to be afraid of in the second half.