While some online critics have gushed that Neil Marshall's "Descent" is the best horror film since "Alien," the movie isn't even quite as excellent as Marshall's own masterpiece, "Dog Soldiers", a classic from 2002 that (criminally) wasn't released to theaters in the U.S., and now can be found in bargain DVD bins for as low as $6.99. With his festival favorite "The Descent," Marshall was finally given the Stateside theatrical release he so richly deserved, albeit with a changed ending. Truth be told, before you even head to theaters to see "Descent," you owe it to yourself to pick up "Dog Soldiers," one of the best werewolf movies ever made.
"Descent" and "Soldiers" actually share so many similaries they are practically companion pieces. Each has human-looking monsters. Each has (for the most part) a unisex cast -- all men for "Dog Soldiers," all women for "The Descent." Each pits human beings alone against monsters in the wilderness.
In "Dog Soldiers," the characters alone in the woods were British soldiers on a training mission with rubber bullets. In "The Descent," a group of uppity women head out to go cave diving without the benefit of bringing any men along for the ride. They end up regretting it. There's a "Blair Witch" moment when, after a cave in, one of the adventurers admits that the cave is uncharted, that it had never been discovered before, but she hadn't let the other gals know about this fact because she wanted "us to discover it."
One of the few male characters is killed off in the film's opening moments, when, following a river rafting expedition, wife Sarah (Shauna McDonald) survives a horrific car accident that takes her husband and daughter. Some months later, she has recovered, and her female friends -- mainly best friend Juno -- decide a terrific way to help her recover is to take her on a cave diving dwelling expedition out in the middle of nowhere.
For me, the classic scene in the movie may be the first big scare, when we realize that this trip is, in fact, about to go horribly, horribly wrong. Marshall, apparently, understands claustrophobia, and "The Descent" captures this fear deliciously.
During the early part of the film, most of the scares revolve around this common fear and, of course, fear of the dark. Then, as you think the film is just a very creepy adventure survival, it heads straight into horror, as our heroines run into creatures down there. Basically things go from worse to even worse still. I don't want to completely ruin the creatures, but needless to say, here is where we can see some more similarities to "Dog Soldiers" -- no CGI, simple make-up that is very, very, very effective.
Where the film exceeds "Dog Soldiers" is toward the end, as Sarah comes to grips with what it will take to survive her ordeal and gets in touch with her feral side. The film ultimately delivers a richer story as well. But while some people consider this film Marshall's triumph, I like "Dog Soldiers" better simply because it doesn't take itself quite as seriously as this film.
Ultimately, Marshall has proven himself a true master of the genre, knocking two balls out of the park in a row. Expect to see him imported to the U.S. soon to produce films with entirely American casts. Like "Soldiers," "Descent" is a British production with thick accents n the cast.