#2: The Descent
In creating this calendar of horror films, let me assure you that it was not at all easy to strike a balance between films written/directed by men and women. To be frank, there are so few female-created horror movies, if I chose to watch only those I could track down, we'd be watching one a week, not one a day. It's no less frustrating trying to find horror that portrays women characters as diverse and complex - but when it appears, it is often excellent. The Descent is excellent.
The Descent 2005
... Only the descent into the hell of self-knowledge can pave the way to godliness. -Kant
Neil Marshall as writer/director is respectful to his all female cast, and he paints a f**king terrifying setting. If you have a problem with tight spaces, the plot would bother you with or without the monsters. I start to hyperventilate as soon as anyone goes head first into a crevace that reminds me of a jagged-rock version of the stale-aired tunnels at Discovery Zone (RIP).
Still thinking about the Halloween boogeyman from last night, I'm drawn to the things lurking in the caves. They both are and aren't men (just like Mike!) - and aside from one female monster Sarah encounters in a pool of blood, the monsters are all men.
It's no secret that the imagery here (underground caves full of blood) is reminiscent of female biology, and I've always seen the film as a journey for the women, especially the newly widowed Sarah, into themselves. Literally.
I'm laughing extra hard this time at Holly's quip about Sam's impossibly complicated watch. Sam can't get the buttons to work, but continues to wear the gift from her boyfriend for "sentimental" reasons - Holly notes that she'd "[dump] any guy who'd give that to me... on the spot." And of course, it's the dumb watch alarm going off that gets them caught by the cave monster's bat sonar. Theme of this movie: men catch you up. Don't waste a lot of time on them. Although Marshall could have had Sarah pining over her deceased husband while battling creepy crawlies in the dark, he instead lets her dream quietly of her daughter's birthday. A beautiful illustration of women drawing closer to each other, and themselves.
Per that detail, I like to think of each film as having a philosophy. I've always thought of this one as embodying that Madeleine Albright quote: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." Sarah never abandons her pack, she refuses to leave a woman behind, and she punishes those who would do otherwise. As a heroine, she isn't perfect, but flawed. As a final girl, she isn't a girl at all, but a woman and a mother. I'm into it.
Other things to notice:
Absolute masterclass in lighting to tell a story. Color washes of yellow, red, and green set the tone for every scene, and nothing like watching things materialize out of the dark for a good scare. I would love to hate on the found footage element of this movie (any movie), but it's really done with an amount of elegance here that makes it work. Mostly because the composition of Marshall's shots are never allowed to suffer for it. And those color washes make the green-toned night vision make sense in the grand scheme of things.
Grab the special edition blu-ray on Amazon right now for a measly $7.
If you like it, watch:
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) - Choose the Wes Craven original and enjoy watching more human mutants living in places they shouldn't be. Claustrophobics rejoice! Your agoraphobic friends will be tortured by endless expanses of desert.
Doomsday - Marshall's next effort is an action/horror epic that is spotty at best, but has another bad-ass lady hero in Rhona Mitra (who also has one eye!). Extra points for Bob Hoskins, gratuitous violence involving rabbits, and the best use of a Fine Young Cannibals song EVER, in my opinion.