10 years ago, audiences were witnesses to a landmark in the horror genre. The first hour of The Descent moves like few other films do. It establishes back story and characters with efficiency if not grace. Affairs, family death, and a trip down Insanity Lane are all established even before the title card appears. A year later, the troubled group of thrill seekers, all of whom have reason to believe somebody else in the group is purposefully gaslighting them (and, subsequently, the audience), go on a spelunking expedition down a deep, dark, narrow hole into the inky blackness of the soul.
At the time, Neil Marshall had only directed one small movie, Dog Soldiers, 3 years prior. With his second movie, he grabs the form with confidence and puts the audience into the claustrophobic well with the characters. He fills the screen with richly dark nothingness, cramming the characters into smaller and smaller spaces, urging them to try to escape, and the audience to escape with them. As their surroundings gets smaller and darker, their paranoia about each other grows into huge monstrosities.
The first half of the movie is a near perfect descent into madness, literally and figuratively. By the end of it, you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. And, for all Neil Marshall tells the audience, there is no way to determine what is actually happening because one character could be hallucinating everything to justify the group’s dynamics. Then comes the second half…
The Descent streams on Hulu