{googleAds}Put a group of testosterone-fueled guys seeking an adrenaline high in a life-or-death situation and they'll likely turn on each other faster than the French on an American Tour de France winner. But after watching The Descent, we know women will do the same.

In Neil Marshall's self-proclaimed sister film to his 2002 horror cult classic Dog Soldiers, six thrill-seeking women friends become unexpectedly trapped underground during a spelunking adventure in the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee. Frantically searching for a way out, they find themselves not only haunted by a race of translucent-skinned humanoids that resemble a creepy cross between Gollum, Spock, and Vladislaus Dracula's naked, flying-monkey devil-brides featured in Van Helsing, but also by their own latent secrets that threaten to tear their social circle apart.

At the film's center is not the cave, nor are the creatures the women will encounter. Marshall is smarter than that. He knows that in order to create a truly chill-inducing horror film and to avoid the typically anemic horror traps, he must make the audience care for the people about to be ripped apart (come on, I didn't spoil anything. It's a horror film for crying out loud). So he deliberately focuses the attention on the women and the human side of their dilemma. They will be forced to make emotional decisions, and will face moral dilemmas far more real and scary than anything that lives underground well, almost!

Although not the leader of the group of young gal pals, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is undoubtedly the central character. She's a damaged soul still attempting to recover from the tragic death of her husband and young daughter in a car accident a year ago. She hopes this year's adventure can help her "get back on the horse" and put the tragedy behind her. But Juno's (Natalie Mendoza) decisions about where and how the spelunkers will do their spelunking might put any hopes of Sarah's recovery on hold. The remainder of the cast is rounded out by an assortment of teachers, medical students, and professional climbers played by relatively unknown actresses. They'll all meld into a single conglomeration of hot but unrecognizable athlete-babes occasionally highlighted by a flare or flickering headlamp.

The film's first hour or so plays out in the lush, rain-drenched Tennessee forest which contrasts nicely with where the remainder of the film takes place deep below the Earth's surface in the claustrophobic confines of oozing caves and tight-fitting passages. Tension comes not only in the form of the physical environs but also in real human feelings of resentment, jealousy, betrayal and even that age-old human trait that has done more for the survival of the fittest than anything else looking out for number one.

But for those who prefer their horror served up on platefuls of gore rather than human emotion, you won't be disappointed either. Marshall quite often goes old school by craftily and vividly depicting axes to skulls, metal to bone, and teeth to flesh. He uses a few cheap scare tactics just to keep our bladders active, but he knows that the best horror comes from within. So oftentimes we catch only a brief glimpse of danger and some of the plot is left open to our own interpretation (especially if you've seen the alternate ending that originally accompanied the film's 2005 Great Britain release.

The Descent is a crafty little horror flick with plenty of stuff for everyone. It's scary. It's gory. And it's even smart in places. It will likely reenergize the genre much in the same way 28 Days Later did for zombie movies. Much of the fun comes from seeing Marshall's clever little send ups to horror films of the past including Carrie, the Alien films, and even Deliverance.


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