Weekend Viewing: The Descent
A truly underground thriller
Sure, there are no monsters in the man-against-nature "Sanctum" while "The Descent" offers a truly shudder-inspiring threat in the creepy "crawlers," but you could just as easily call them the worst of the natural disasters faced by our crew. They are pack predators that are blind from being underground for so long (you can construct your own evolutionary journey for these albino humanoids) and hunt by sound (they screech like bats—creepy!) and scent. You could call this a subterranean “Deliverance,” pitting the weekend warrior women against cadaverous crawlers that pick off the weak and the wounded as they scramble to find their way out of this unexplored system.
Ultimately it is all about what it takes to survive. The elements are familiar, but the finished film has an integrity and intensity that makes it feel, if not new, then at least refreshed. It’s a film stripped to bloody basics, a ferocious and taut exercise in action horror that, appropriately enough, recalls the early James Cameron of "The Terminator" and "Aliens," with more gore and less sentimentality. And while "The Descent" doesn't offer the gimmick (or distraction) of 3D spectacle (and cumbersome glasses), the intensity of the experience renders such things moot. The dimensionality is in the filmmaking, the storytelling and the ferocity of the characters.
The version released in American theaters had one minor change from the British version: it cut the chillingly perfect coda. The film was released to DVD in two versions: the R-rated American cut and the British "Original Unrated Cut," with the coda intact. (It was also offered in a full-screen version, which in 2006 meant the old TV dimensions; that's a pretty useless incarnation for most folks today.) Blu-ray, however, just offers the original British cut. That is the edition to seek out.