Sunday, August 27, 2006

Darkness Mauls : The Descent

So. The Descent.
I met Damian and his new girlfriend at the theatre.
Damian has been a friend, co-worker and movie-buddy of mine for eight or nine years now, but I had yet to meet his new girlfriend, Jen. I had glimpsed a girl in the mall where she was supposed to work, but I wasn't sure if it was her, so I never ventured to introduce myself.

She turned out to be much cuter and thinner than the girl I had mistaken for her.
(Not that I am a body-fascist or anything, but still.)
She was a nice surprise.

We went in for the Saturday matinee, and the theatre was mostly empty.
Damian sat between us, as is the usual seating alignment for third-wheel social arrangements like this, and we sort of chatted back and forth a little bit.
I think Jen was more nervous meeting me than I was meeting her though, which I found sweet and endearing.

Lately Damian and I have been drifting out of each other's orbit, which is also common for single friends to do when one of them hooks up with a new love interest.

Whether she was conscious of this or not, I don't know, but she was awfully generous, and let Damian and I do some overdue catching-up. (Damian is the laziest emailer in the history of cyberspace. Jen actually had to physically type out his last message to me.)

So, right -- the movie.
This thing has been generating stellar writeups for a while now.
It's actually available on DVD in the U.K.

You can read Buzz's review at Camp Blood here.
And Rich's take on it at fourfour here.

I don't have much to add, as I also enjoyed the movie thoroughly.
Maybe just a couple of points.

Claustrophobia. Now, I've seen all manner of films that take place in cramped settings and it's never bothered me. The set of Das Boot seemed quite cozy to me. Newt's series of rabbit-warrens and hidey-holes in Aliens made me a little jealous.

If anything, I might have considered myself a claustrophile. As a kid, I used to jam my closet full of stuffed animals, shut the door, and then burrow underneath them. (Yeah, a whole separate set of neurosis, there.)

The point is, the spelunking scenes in The Descent singlehandedly spoiled everthing I ever liked about small spaces.
It was that hard to watch.

"Who would ever voluntarily engage in this activity?" I asked myself, squirming frantically in my suddenly cramped-seeming seat.

And this is the genius of the movie. Thematically, it harkens to the genesis of Jaws, which was a true-life account of several shark-attacks in New Jersey during the early part of the twentieth century. Back then, people had just started to swim for recreation, and it's assumed that as a result, sharks were suddenly introduced to a brand new food source.

The theme of adventurous humans wandering blithely into unknown territorial depths and paying the ultimate penalty is the critical leitmotiv in both of these films.

When the characters split up, it's not a lazy plot conceit, it's a necessary act of self-preservation on behalf of the characters. As the group splinters into wandering singles and duos, they are each represented by different light sources.
One group uses a yellow glow-stick, another is illumiated by purple flares, and other characters are bathed in the eerie green glow of a night-vision camera.
It serves as a neat shorthand for their identities, given the cinematographic challenge of differentiating each character in a pitch-black setting.

There is talk that the North American cut is inferior to the original, but don't let that get you worried. As Buzz so aptly puts it: "(the Euro version) ended with a period, while this version ends with a question-mark".
So not a big deal overall.
(And Damian and Jen squirmed rewardingly throughout.)

The Descent truly blew me away. And like most inventive, novel, fright flicks, it seems to be doing poorly at the box office.
Buy the DVD. Pet it, love it, own it.
It's a fun ride in the worst sense.
Or maybe an awful ride in the best sense.
Either way, it was easily the most affecting horror movie Damian and I have seen in ages.

Maybe I should invite his girlfriend along more often...


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