Something of a low-budget retread of the “Alien” films, the bloody fright flick “The Descent” still is far better than most of the cliche-ridden dreck that passes for horror.
The story of six women who encounter rabidly carnivorous humanoids during a trek into an Appalachian cave system has some genuine cleverness in both its setup and the eventual gory mayhem it unleashes.
The movie’s thrill-and-chill sequences are nasty and suspenseful, though once the creatures start to attack, the scenes get repetitive.
Writer-director Neil Marshall offers a cast you can care about and believe in, compared to the mannequinlike teens generally lining up for slaughter in horror movies.
Marshall essentially offers a female variant of his 2002 horror tale “Dog Soldiers,” about a British military unit that encounters ravenous werewolves in Scotland.
“The Descent” opens with a quick setup involving Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), who suffers a horrible tragedy that leaves her stricken with grief.
A year later, Sarah and devoted pal Beth (Alex Reid) meet up with four other friends and acquaintances for a cave-exploring expedition in the middle of nowhere.
The adventure has been organized by Juno (Natalie Mendoza), a tough, natural leader who wants to take her gal pals where no woman has gone before. Joining the journey is Juno’s protege Holly (Nora-Jane Noone), skilled Scandinavian climber Rebecca (Saskia Mulder) and Rebecca’s half-sister Sam (MyAnna Buring), a Swedish medical student studying in America.
The actresses establish an easy rapport from the start as old friends coming together with camaraderie — and hints of competitiveness — to help Sarah cope with her loss.
Six guesses on which woman steps up to become the “Aliens”-like Sigourney Weaver army of one.
Shooting entirely in Great Britain, Marshall credibly re-creates the Appalachians and manages some impressive cave sequences considering he was working on a tight budget, with money enough to build only six cave sets that were revamped over and over.
The murky underground scenes of the women making their way through tunnels and chambers evoke a real sense of claustrophobia, and little frictions that arise among them set the mood for utter chaos when monsters strike.
Turns out the women have wandered into the feeding territory of cave-dwelling creatures that are vaguely human but have evolved to suit their environment — eyes blind because of the darkness in which they dwell, skin slimy and gray, ears batlike to channel their super-hearing.
The beasties are fast, snarling and really enjoy the taste of female spelunkers. The women are separated both physically and psychologically as ugly revelations divide them.
Once the action kicks into overdrive, the sequences tend to look a lot alike — the creatures biting down bloodily, the women beating them back, plenty of heads exploding like melons on rocks.
Composer David Julyan’s score swells annoyingly at times, especially during a quiet scene or two as the women are heading to the caves to meet their fate. We get it: Doom lies ahead. No need to hammer it home with heavy-handed music.
“The Descent” ultimately shows people doing their worst to others to improve their own chances, one scene in particular presenting a talking point for the ride home after the movie about survival and payback.
What Marshall’s saying about humanity is uncertain. Maybe that the troglodytes deserve to inherit the earth. Or maybe: Watch your back when you and your friends encounter vicious meat-eaters in enclosed spaces.