The Descent (Lions Gate Films, R)

…the scares in the latter half of the film are genuine and earned-this would be in the running for a classic horror movie if the characters were more likeable and they ditched the sucker punch startle-scares.

 

I've long maintained that British national cinema is about the worst in the world. I know… Kubrick, Hitchcock, etc. (though I don't like a single David Lean film). This isn't about naming British directors who are great to disprove me; it's just that the percentile of British films that are bad seems to be much higher than the ratio of good to bad films from almost any other country. How many modern British directors are good? I love Lynne Ramsay, Danny Boyle can be very good (though inconsistent), but the British cinema stalwarts generally irritate me (for example, I could do without the entirety of Mike Leigh's oeuvre, save Secrets & Lies). So, I was less than enthusiastic when I heard about The Descent, a British horror film that was hugely popular over there and now has a lot of horror nerd buzz behind it as it is being released here.

The Descent is the story of six girls who go spelunking to help boost the spirits of a group member whose husband just died in a car wreck The girls proceed to get trapped inside the cave and have to find their way out, as the tension builds. It's a pretty classic horror movie setup, and the film is surprisingly good at ratcheting up the suspense. Unfortunately, there are a few problems that keep it from being one of the few good British films of the past decade. All six girls are very broad stereotypes, and not just horror movie stereotypes, but broad human stereotypes. To compound this, despite how broad their characterizations are (and the actress' performances aren't strong enough to make you care about the characters' fates, either), it is somehow very hard to tell them apart-they all homogenize into one big, predictable female character. Next, the film's credibility is shot within the first half hour or so, where the scares are the kind where something jumps into the frame coinciding with a shock of music. It's a shame, too, because the scares in the latter half of the film are genuine and earned-this would be in the running for a classic horror movie if the characters were more likeable and they ditched the sucker punch startle-scares.

I'm the pretentious sort of film reviewer who abhors the tendency of Hollywood to remake absolutely goddamn everything, but in this case, if handled correctly, a Hollywood remake could be exactly what this film needs. Hey, it worked for The Ring, so maybe lightning can strike twice.

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