Neil Marshall burst on to the scene in style in 2002 with his debut, werewolf picture ‘Dog Soldiers’. 3 years later he returned with perhaps one of the most tense, memorable and well crafted horror movies of the mid-00’s, The Descent.
A depressed woman recovering from the loss of her family in a tragic accident is convinced to go on a caving expedition with her friends as a method of reconnecting with them and to help take her mind off her terrible situation. Things take a turn for the worst when they become trapped & lost in a cave system that is uncharted. The group slowly become very much aware that they are not alone.
The Descent is a real step up from Marshall’s previous film, not that Dog Soliders was bad, in fact quite the opposite but The Descent is a film that is in a whole other league and was a calculated risk to approach his next film in a different way and go bigger, he most certainly did just that. A sense of confidence permeates the presentation of The Descent, this is a a film from a director who knows what he wants to convey and exactly how to push people’s buttons getting there. The claustrophobic confines of the caving system, Shadow-play, drips & echos fill every scene with a near unbearable feeling of dread, the use of night vision certainly doesn’t help matters when you finally see what dwells in caves of the Appalachian mountains.
Though The Descent is set in North Carolina it was actually shot in the UK, both in Scotland for all exterior shots and at Pinewood studios for the scenes in the caves as it was deemed too dangerous to film in an actual cave system not to mention such a feat would be an absolute logistical nightmare to pull off, interestingly enough though, all lighting in the cave sets was limited to what would actually be used whilst caving such as helmet lights, flares and glow sticks and the like to try and maintain some structured form of authenticity in the compromise they had to make.
As a follow up to the film that won Marshall his stripes as it were, The Descent was the next logical step for a director who has since carved himself a recognisable niche in the cinematic and televisual landscape. He went on to write & direct two more film that closely followed after The Descent in Doomsday & Centurion but has also made quite the name for himself directing for TV, The 2 episodes of Game Of Thrones he directed, Blackwater & The Watchers On The Wall both received massive critical acclaim, the later receiving a Primetime Emmy nomination. Not bad going at all for a man who had the simple idea of scaring the bejeezus out of us with the simplest of ideas executed to absolute perfection.