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Friday, August 4, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"The Descent": Pretty deep for a horror flick

Seattle Times staff reporter

"The Descent" is a female-bonding trip gone bad. The film delivers jolts of scares that keep coming — and keep working.

Written and directed by Neil Marshall, the movie follows a clique of six adventuring women who belay into the mouth of a cave, get lost, then come face-to-face with murderous Gollum-like creatures.

Scaring the audience on a low budget and without the help of CGI, "The Descent" uses an arsenal of techniques that Marshall has sharpened since he took six men into the Scottish forest in his dark werewolf tale "Dog Soldiers" (2002). The film traps the audience, along with that posse of swearing women, in the winding tunnels and jagged-edged cavities of an uncharted cave system.

Tight shots of women desperately wriggling through worm holes or teetering on a ledge overlooking an abyss create a claustrophobic effect, one that leaves the characters gasping for air and the audience breathing shallower. Monochromatic scenes — highlighting the red blood clinging on a woman's body or the green glow of a light stick — heighten the eerie atmosphere.

Movie review 3 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"The Descent," with Shauna MacDonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone, MyAnna Buring. Written and directed by Neil Marshall. 99 minutes. Rated R for strong violence/gore and language. Several theaters.

And yes, these scare tactics are repeated, but the sheer level of gore — perhaps it should have earned an NC-17 rating? — means that "The Descent" manages to surprise time and again.

Unlike most horror movies, two of the characters in this screenplay are actually fleshed out: an unsure Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) and, to a lesser extent, a cocky Juno (Natalie Mendoza).

As the story descends, the women land in increasingly desperate situations. Almost all the important elements of safe spelunking — a healthy body, a clear head, lots of equipment and some old-fashioned trust — disintegrate as the women trudge on.

But don't worry, it's not as bad as it could be for our heroines. "The Descent" was released in Europe last year, and the ending of this American version is less ominous.

Judy Chia Hui Hsu: 206-464-3315

or jhsu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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