The Descent (2005) is one of the top 5 scariest horror movies I've ever seen. It combines the adventure/disaster film with creature feature. Most of the fear here is grossness and startle response, but it has both of these factors in amounts that are so far beyond over-the-top that you can't even see the "top" anymore.
Michael and I call this movie "Chicks in a Cave". Six women embark upon a spelunking adventure in a cave that turns out to be crawling with humans that have evolved into creepy blind cave-dwellers. The first 2/3 of the film is just a straight claustrophobic cave adventure. The women are all skilled explorers. They have, and are proficient in the use of, all kinds of spelunking gear. Several of them have distinct personalities, though I would have been a lot happier had there been more diversity in the cast.
That brings me to the issues I have with this movie. Though it obviously passes the Bechdel Test with a cast of six women going on an adventure together, I am disappointed that only one of these women is non-white. The ONE non-white character is also the only one of the bunch that's morally corrupt. In fact, she lies to the group about the cave they are going into. They think they're doing a relatively safe and mapped out caving expedition, but Juno takes them to a cave that's never been explored (she THINKS it hasn't been explored, anyway) without telling them. Six women in a dangerous situation that only one of them consented to and no one knows where they are because they filed a "flight plan" for the location they thought they were going to. To add to the tragedy, Juno was having an affair with Sarah's (main character pictured above) husband before he and Sarah's daughter were killed in an accident with Sarah in the car a year earlier. Once the cave-dweller-creatures start attacking the women, Juno kills several of them with her pickax and it is SUPERbadass but THEN she accidentally puts her pickax through Beth's neck. Instead of Juno apologizing profusely and staying with Beth or helping to end her suffering, she freezes in horror and backs away, abandoning Beth to die slowly and alone. Sarah ends up having to end her life when she comes upon Beth later.
For most of the last third of the movie when the horror starts happening, Sarah and Juno are alone, both separated from the other two surviving women. They're seen becoming ruthless killers separately and alone, though Juno is losing her humanity while Sarah is keeping hers. There are some moments of complete badassery as these two women fight the creatures with their pickaxes, but the film never lets you bask for even a MOMENT in their victories. Everything is just awful for them every step of the way and they are seen becoming savage. These women are smart and competent. I wouldn't even mind Juno's moral-corruptness if she wasn't the ONLY woman of color in the cast. It's ok to not be a good guy, but it just feels icky when almost everyone else is a blond white woman that isn't at ALL corrupt.
I kept getting really distracted by how much PTSD Sarah will have for the rest of her life should she survive this. Her husband and daughter died in front of her in a car accident. One of her best friends was having an affair with her husband, a fact she doesn't discover until sometime in the cave. Most of her friends are killed in this damn cave; one of them SHE had to kill. And then, you know, just the entire cave situation. At the end, Sarah pickaxes Juno in the leg and I think we're supposed to fist-pump at that because bitch stole her man and brought them there without consent. I'd like the stole-my-man part of the plotline to not be there because I want the reason Sarah pickaxes Juno in the leg to be because she brought them to the motherfucking cave, not because of a man.
I wouldn't have wanted to live through this experience. The ending is ambiguous, too. You don't see her get out in the UK version of the film. You're left to assume Sarah is the only living member of the group, but she's still trapped in the cave.
This movie employs the wet=scary equation that the most terrifying horror movies know to use. There is more blood in this movie than any other movie I've ever seen. Like unexplained levels of blood. Like WHY is there so much blood? The imagery is very striking, but there's really no logical explanation for all the blood. I'm all about chicks and blood, though, so I'll let it slide.
In summation, "The Descent" is one of the most terrifying horror movies ever. It is mostly not sexist, but if a remake was done, there should be more diversity in the cast. Oh, and drop the bitch-stole-my-man plot-point.
Aesthetics/Visual Effects: 3
Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3.5