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October 01, 2006

The Descent - 5

In what seems to be an anomaly, Paul has actually given a film a higher ranking than me. It is a good review, and actually made me consider this film further than I had initially. First, of all, I am not a huge fan of the horror genre to begin with. It helped that I knew going in to look at the psychological and traumatic aspects of the characters rather than the general plot outline. I would suggest the same if you plan on seeing this. The plot just gets more and more outrageous until the point of unbelief (part of a good film's excellence comes from its ability to allow the audience to suspend unbelief). The fear that the characters feel and violence that lies deep beneath the surface is shown with vivid realism. I liked how patient the film was, its first startle moment is probably 45 minutes in. There are two endings to the film. Originally made in the UK, that ending focuses on the psychological and can be seen here. The US version is only a little shorter and ends on a startle moment rather than having some resolve.


Paul said...

Most of my excitement about this film revolves around the way that it deals intelligently with the effects and after-effects of trauma. Sarah is such an interesting character creation, simultaneously blank and layered, that her struggles create genuine concern. Those flashbacks to the birthday cake are so effective. However, Marshall's film is so self-referential to past horror films that the film becomes something of an ode to the genre even as it elicits genuine terror from the audience.

Jim Emerson (editor of Roger Ebert's site, as well as film blogger) lists many a great thought on the following link, and the commentary on the comments are just as engaging



~greg said...

I still don't get why paying homage makes a movie good. I can see that some intertextuality can be cool and enhance a story.

That's a bit of a rant, I don't think this film does JUST that, like you say, Paul, the character development actually works, as oppose to some other horror films.

But I don't think the homage thing can bump this film's ranking any higher.

Paul said...

You wrote:
>>But I don't think the homage thing can bump this film's ranking any higher.<<

Which is likely why I consider Mulholland Dr. the best film of this decade, whereas you're (as I remember, at least) far more ambivalent about it.

Ultimately, though, I like The Descent because an audience can infer that everything about the things inside the cave are a form of her subconscious trauma, so that the film simultaneously works as a simple horror film or as a way for her damaged psyche to express its rage and vengeance vis-a-vis the things (which would then be purely imagined). There's flaws to this more metaphorical readings, of course, but it's such an intriguing reading that I forego the flaws and enjoy the terror on this "deeper" level. Hope this helps clarify my appreciation of The Descent.

Evan said...

I think that intertextuality is important because art does not exist in a vacuum. Film is barely one hundred years old and yet the idea of a completely original film is laughable. Nothing is original.

One of the tragedies of the post-modern film era, I feel, is the death of the genre film. Once spoofs became popular in the eighties, people somehow felt that making pure genre films became pointless.

One thing to keep in mind about genres is that they are never static, they are always evolving and homage is a method of genre evolution.

The Descent as creature-feature horror is a perfect example of this. Think of all the monster movies you've seen. Think of how women are depicted in early (and a lot of current) monster movies as victims or as dependent on men for survival.

Then fast-forward to Ridley Scott's Alien (another great genre film). Now we have a film where all the men die and the strong, but still very sensitive and sensual, female has the will to defend herself and survive.

Now we have The Descent, a film who's only male character is weak and killed within the first five minutes. Shauna McDonald's Sarah as the protagonist is the advancement of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley character from Alien. This women who is seemingly the weakest of the bunch evolves and is reborn as a sort of vengeful Nietchzean Over-woman.

All of these ideas are brought out by referencing other movies. I don’t think it is simply a director trying to be cool. Look at the films that Marshall is referencing and what themes they bring out:

Alien – Female empowerment, birth imagery
Apocalypse Now – The dehumanizing effects of trauma
Blair Witch Project – Irrational egotism
Carrie – Feminine rage
Deliverance – Fear of masculine dominance (!)
Eraserhead – Loads more birth imagery
Evil Dead II (or any other zombie movie for that matter) – Rebirth

I’m sure that is merely the tip of the iceberg as well. All these references easily add more layers of subtext underneath what is already a highly entertaining and electric film. The Descent is currently in my top 10 list for 2006 and it is likely to stay there. I think it is a mature and textured work by a filmmaker who has shown that he is a subtle and expert genre manipulator with two great horror films (his first film Dog Soldiers is a bit more silly than The Descent but its genre manipulation is just as astute).

Paul’s mentioning of Mulholland Drive is another great example. I find it to be a dream-logic modernized riff on Sunset Boulevard. Without intertextuality the film (as an indictment of Hollywood politics) falls apart and doesn’t work.