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On an annual extreme outdoor adventure, six women meet in a remote part of the Appalachians to explore a cave hidden deep in the woods. Far below the surface of the earth, disaster strikes when a rock fall blocks their exit and there's no way out. The women push on, praying for another exit, but there is something else lurking under the earth. The friends are now prey, forced to unleash their most primal instincts in an all-out war against an unspeakable horror - one that attacks without warning, again and again and again.
For more about The Descent and the The Descent Blu-ray release, see the The Descent Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on November 13, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Neil Marshall
Writer: Neil Marshall
Starring: Shauna MacDonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone, MyAnna Buring
» See full cast & crew
The Descent Blu-ray Review
A great Blu-ray in every way, Neil Marshall's unorthodox horror film is a must-own!
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, November 13, 2007
We've always said that if there is no risk, then what's the point?
The Descent is one of the scarier movies I have ever seen. Everything about it works in perfect harmony: the tempo, the music, the direction, the acting, the editing, the lighting, the scares, the gore, and so on. Nothing is overblown, nothing is understated. This Blu-ray edition of the film contains both the R-rated and unrated cuts of the film. For the purpose of this review, I chose to view the unrated version.
As the film opens, several female friends are white water rafting. Among them is Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), who is a wife, a mother, and an adventurer. Her husband and daughter await her at the end of the trip. On the way home, the family is in a horrific automobile accident, and Sarah's husband and daughter are killed instantly. The film fast-forwards one year, and once again Sarah is preparing to go on an adventure with her friends, though she is still grieving the loss of her family. This time, in the Appalachian Mountains, Sarah and company will once again brave the wild by spelunking through a cave. Juno (Natalie Mendoza) is the coordinator of this adventure, a tough, natural leader who is in top physical condition and embraces challenge and excitement.
The action picks up once the group descends into the cave. There is some beautiful photography to behold here and the film is so well made that the audience is instantly transported into the cave with the characters. Unfortunately, things start to go awry in a hurry as the trip meant for relaxation and camaraderie unravels into a series of complications. Finally, it is revealed that Juno deceived the group, taking them into a cave that is not the one they planned and agreed to go down. She wanted the glory of being the first person through it and felt naming it after the group would bring them closer together, much as they were before Sarah's tragedy. However, they find equipment that Juno approximates to be 100 years old and they realize that they are not the first ones to have explored this cave, and that the first party likely didn't survive as they would have named the cave upon returning to the surface. To make matters even worse, the group soon discovers they are not alone and are hunted by subterranean, humanoid creatures looking for a fresh meal. A fight for survival ensues as each member of the party begins to lose their sanity as they get separated from one another and must fend for themselves against creatures that are devoid of eyesight and hunt based on sound and instinct.
I enjoyed the film quite a bit. It's very well made and, most importantly, it's original. There is not a male hero to be found, and only one male character to be seen in the film, and he (Sarah's husband) is killed off before we have a chance to meet him. Juno, however, plays the role typically assigned to a male lead, that of the strong, athletic, determined, and aggressive character that we expect to fight his way through the storm, defending the lesser of the characters along the way until one of them must step forward and take on a larger role in defense of the group and against the enemy. We see this plot device employed in this film, but not as we may expect. The dynamic between Sarah and Juno is heightened when this moment occurs. A secret about the relationship between Sarah, Juno, and Sarah's late husband is subtly revealed, resulting in an unexpected plot twist, especially in the midst of the mayhem taking place all around them. A word is not spoken between the two, but gestures, looks, and a prop do the talking, creating perhaps the scariest and also the best moment of the film.
The Descent is the second major motion picture to come from English director Neil Marshall. His first, 2002's Dog Soldiers, was excellent, a picture about a group of Scottish soldiers fending off a horde of werewolves. Both of his movies are much, much better than their basic plot outlines suggest, and Marshall has certainly not succumbed to the dreaded "sophomore slump" with The Descent. He, along with Rob Zombie, is one of the fast moving up-and-comers in the horror genre. I've enjoyed their films a great deal and I am eager to see what they have in store for audiences next.
The Descent Blu-ray, Video Quality
Lionsgate's 1080p, 2.35:1 presentation of The Descent is outstanding. I noticed only one or two minor blemishes throughout the runtime of the film. Flesh tones in some of the early scenes are a little on the orange side, and a few flickers in the image are present here and there along with some noise in one darker scene late in the movie, but none of this is distracting or bad enough to obsess over. This is still a transfer that will knock your socks off, and it is even more impressive considering the setting and low level lighting used throughout the film. The Descent features a color palette that has a deliberate blue and gray tint about it early on in the film prior to the entry into the cave. This fits the overall tone of the film very well. Outdoor scenes look drab, foreshadowing the darkness and terror once the descent into the cave takes place. Detail is extremely high throughout. Once we get into the cave, the picture is constantly very, very dark, lit only by the lights on helmets and flares. This is where the strength of this transfer really shines. There is very little to no noise in the vast majority of the dark shots. Blacks aren't crushed, nor are they overly bright in an attempt to reveal more detail than we are intended to see. This image accurately represents the feeling of dread and claustrophobia to perfection. This is a top notch video transfer, and everything about it is spectacular. It is reference material from start to finish, and Lionsgate should be commended for handling what had the potential to be a disastrous transfer so remarkably well.
The Descent Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Descent features a chilling soundtrack that strikes just the right chord from the get-go to set the tone of the film. Presented with both a PCM uncompressed 6.1 track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track, this is a robust, tense, well crafted audio experience. Like the video, the audio is reference grade from beginning to end. A scene where birds are shown feasting on the corpse of a dead animal and suddenly scatter in every direction is a great surround moment in the track. A scene during a cave-in and other bass heavy sequences shake the foundation of your house. Surrounds are present and accounted for and are active throughout the film. Scenes where the creatures circle and scamper around the girls are particularly excellent. The directionality and flow of the sound from one speaker to the next, circling your room, is an awesome sonic experience. It sounds so real that it'll have you nearly as terrified as the girls in the movie. Dialogue is perfect; you will never miss a word and nothing is obscured by the score, ambience, or bass. Highs, especially the screams of the victims and the shrieks of the creatures, are distortion free.
The Descent Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Lionsgate has released The Descent as a full-blown special edition. There is enough here to spend a good half a day digging through all of it. Below is a rundown of what is included.
Descent: An Underground Experience is a picture-in-picture supplement that shows how the film was made, alternate angles of shots, how special effects were made, discussions with and between cast and crew, and all sorts of fun behind-the-scenes information. Two of the last three titles I have reviewed have featured a variation of PiP (though neither are true profile 1.1 PiP). I believe that once profile 1.1 players and titles start hitting store shelves en masse that it will be a hit feature on Blu-ray.
There are two feature commentary tracks on this disc. The first features director Neil Marshall and actresses Nora Jane Noone (Holly), Sasika Mulder (Rebecca), MyAnna Buring (Sam), Shauna Macdonald (Sarah), and Alex Reid (Beth). Natalie Mendoza (Juno) is absent. Lots of laughing and giggling are heard from the get-go amongst the girls and this is a more entertaining, laid back track than the more dry and technical crew commentary. Speaking of which, director Neil Marshall, editor John Harrison, assistant editor Tina Richardson, producer Christian Colson, and production designer Simon Bowles appear on track two. This is indeed the more serious track and it provides an in-depth discussion about the efforts each individual contributed to the making of the film.
Descending is an interview with writer/director Neil Marshall. (1080i, 7:13). He discusses his thoughts regarding the alternate endings of the film and the movie's original title (The Dark).
The Descent: Beneath the Scenes (1080i, 41:19) is a full length documentary. The cast discusses the story, the meaning behind the film and their reaction to the script and the film. Also discussed is the subject of horror films, the cast's favorite horror movies, and what scares them in real life. Neil Marshall discusses the influences of Deliverance, Alien, and The Shining on this movie. Overall, there is a lot of good information here and this documentary is well worth a watch if you liked this movie.
Nine deleted and extend scenes (1080p, 9:56) are available. These look and sound great and could have been seamlessly integrated into the film had the director chosen to do so. It's great to have these in 1080p and actually looking like part of the film rather than the rough cuts we often see on other discs.
Caving: An HD Experience (1080i, 8:38) is a first person POV trek through a cave. There is no narration, but it is set to music. Avid spelunkers might find this interesting, but I found it rather dull. A real-life spelunking expert commenting on what we are seeing could have made it much more intriguing.
Storyboard to Scene (1080i, 10:26) features scenes of the film superimposed over the storyboards drawn for those scenes.
Outtakes (1080i, 5:13), a still gallery, cast and crew biographies, and a 1080p montage of now- available Blu-ray discs from Lionsgate round out the disc. Please note that I had difficulty maneuvering through the cast and crew biographies feature. My Playstation 3 would not allow me to make any selections and I was forced to quit playback altogether to get out of the feature.
The Descent Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Descent is a scary, bloody, and original horror movie. Director Neil Marshall's first two films are brilliant, and this Blu-ray disc is the perfect medium to acquaint yourself with his work. Lionsgate has once again released an absolutely tremendous disc, and the studio is quickly becoming a leader in the high definition arena, committed to the Blu-ray format, and taking advantage of all it has to offer. This is one of the best overall discs available to date, showcasing top notch video and audio quality, fantastic supplements, and a great movie. This disc is highly recommended.
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