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Day: December 4, 2009

The Descent

20071018175740_the_descent fin

Last night after Juli had gone to bed, I watched The Descent, a film which I had passed off as total “meh” when it first came out in 2006. Oh great, another stupid Hollywood piece of shit horror movie, I thought. I passed it off as nothing. Then, earlier this year when I was in Minnesota with Mikey W we got to discussing films (as we do) and The Descent came up. He recommended it to me wholeheartedly, noting that my preconceptions about it were wrong. Always willing to give a film with a solid recommendation a chance, I threw it onto my Netflix Queue.

I’m glad I did too, because it’s a fine example of what can be accomplish on a smallish budget when you’ve got a super tight script, concept, actors, and production team. Working with not that much, director Neil Marshall turned out the best new horror film I’ve seen in a few years that doesn’t rely on a gimmick (Cloverfield, I’m looking at you).

The film is about Sarah, who lost her husband and child in a grisly auto accident a year prior, and a group her friends, led by the headstrong Juno, embarking on an adventure into a cave system in the Appalachian Mountains. They climb down into a giant hole in the ground (that’s the technical term) to do some spelunking and Sarah starts to see shadows moving. When they becoming trapped by a cave in, Juno reveals that this isn’t the cavern they were supposed to be in and then it all goes down hill. I won’t spoil it any further. You should see it.

The Descent is truly masterful at building a palpable sense of dread. As much as everyone subconsciously wants to go back to the womb, no one wants to be trapped in a cave with two miles of rock above them and with no way of getting help. Really, this film, for me, breaks into two kinds of scares. The first is the base human dread of being trapped alive with no hope of escape, which seems like a most horrible way to die. Claustrophobia is this film’s friend and confidant. Taking clear cues from Ridley Scott’s Alien, The Descent utilizes its setting to enhance the dread we feel as we imagine ourselves in the place of the women struggling desperately to escape into the light. The second, which is less interesting, is the jump-out-at-you scare. I am not a fan of these types of scare, not because I am susceptible to them, but because I find them often to be cheap. Being startled because something jumped out and the music suddenly got very loud is not being scared. Sure, it causes me to jump, but it’s nothing compared to the dread you feel when something is really scary. Now, I’m not begrudging this film the use of the jumpscare (a term I read somewhere that I like) because it’s one of the horror genre’s most common tools. I just think it’s cheap, but that is a genre-wide complaint, and not specific to The Descent.

I thought that the most frightening point of the whole film was when Sarah is crawling through an extremely narrow passageway and begins to have a panic attack. She feels stuck and her friend Beth comes back for her, trying to calm her down. Then the passage starts to collapse and they have to rush through this narrow little hole as quickly as they can lest they be crushed under tons of falling rock. I was sitting on the sofa watching this with my body turned halfway away from the screen, my head cocked back, I found it so horrifying. No number of jumpscares could equal the slow dread of that moment for me. It reminded me for the first time in a long time of how as a kid I used to hide by the door during particularly scary parts when watching horror films so that if I needed to I could get away and not have to sit through whatever was about to happen. It was that same feeling, except I wasn’t hiding by the door.

Regarding the effects in the film, I thought they were mostly spot on. The creatures were amazing. They were like Gollum, if Gollum was, you know, a real monster. The excessive blood and gore was a little silly at points, but never dissatisfying. The set design and cinematography was great with real moments of actual darkness. Not bullshit movie darkness, but real, old fashioned, ain’t-no-light-in-this-bitch darkness. There were a few comps that weren’t that great, where they felt like they were overreaching their capabilities, but overall it was a seamless effort.

My one almost-criticism, is that is nearly falls into the “Inappropriately Hot Chick” convention, which I will not describe here. Fortunately, it’s kind of ok here. Perhaps this is just a particularly attractive group of spelunkers. I don’t know. I don’t do a lot of crawling about in caves, but something tells me that we’re looking at a conveniently too-pretty group of cave divers. Expect further analysis of this convention in a future Black Laser post.

Niggles aside, if you’re a fan of horror flicks, check out The Descent. It won’t make you mad. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot, and I am glad I watched it alone because Juli would have hated it. When the chick gets the pickaxe through the throat? Awesome.

I wonder what scent younger men prefer?

And though the languid torpor of the summer is thankfully behind us, I find myself filled with a strange desire for some ice cream after watching this spot clearly inspired by the video for “Satisfaction” be Benni Benassi.

The original inspiration after the break. Read more

23 – These Fists

These fists.  These fists have known such discord as I cannot begin to recount.  In times before men lived upon this land, I rode across it, aimless.  I knew neither form nor consciousness, yet I was.  I remember those times, but I do not remember being.  And then the first men crossed the ice bridge in the north and spread down, adapting, changing, learning to live in this hostile, giving land.  And they told stories of the wind and the night and the lightning and the thunder.  They told stories of the great tusked beasts that roamed the land, of the fire that burnt the forests, of the place they went when they died.  They sought to make sense of so many things they knew nothing about, so they used what they knew—the animals, the birds, the seasons, the plants.  Each little group of these men created a web of stories, of belief, about the genesis of this place.  They created symbols to explain the inexplicable.  They gave names to the things and places and moments and stars that had no names, never knew they needed to be named.  It was then that I took form, though I was and am known by many different names to many different people.  As the years progress, I am known less and less.  My form has become a blending of so many cultures and traditions and ideas, the sum of so many thoughts, that I have become hard to recognize to all except the most attune to the natural world.  The modernization of the world has drained my once vibrant colors.  So few still believe, but I shall never cease to be for deep within them they know I am there.  To some, I am a benefactor, bringing with me change and growth and development.  To others, I am a malefactor, ushering in the end of an age, the death of what they had always known.  To be fair, I have never been either of these things.  My role is subject to their interpretation, to the context of the situation.  I only am.  I will only be.  I will continue to ride as long as the sun rises and sets.

And though I am impartial, my time amongst the people has imbued me with something like what they call emotion.  I have found myself taking part in their struggles, often against my better judgment.  When I have had time to stop and think about it—such a strange thing thinking—I recognized that my role is only to lead the change, not to fight for or against it.  Yet that is what I do.  I take sides.  While so many people thought I was preventing change from taking place, I knew that change would happen regardless.  Nothing can stop the change once it begins.

And here, again, I embarked on this cycle of change and rebirth, the cycle of death and destruction, leading the vanguard of discord to welcome an era of concord in my wake.  But on whose side shall I fight?  Whose blood shall I spill?  What shape shall the future take when my role, for the moment, is done?