When I was younger, there were a few years I attempted 31 horror movies in October. I usually had fun with it but haven’t done it because… well, life basically. This year seemed like a good year to attempt it again, however. The goal being 31 short pieces on different horror movies (or related things) for the month. If it gets too challenging for me to make the time for the movies along with everything else, I might bend the rules, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. To kick the month off, one of my favorite movies, The Descent.
The cave is such a fantastic setting because it gives us a few key elements of horror itself. The women are trapped, there is a lack of light, and there is a lack of freedom of movement – or extreme claustrophobia.
One of the most incredible moments of this movie is when Sarah believes she is trapped. It is such a realistic depiction of panic. Sarah can move, she is not the biggest of the group, and they have all made it through, but her panic and just a bit of a struggle have completely paralyzed her. It is such an intense moment, and as someone that has been completely overwhelmed by their anxiety, I was discomforted in that way we like horror movies to do to us. Then the cave starts to collapse. Watching it squeeze in on Sarah is uncomfortable and terrifying. I don’t enjoy small and cramped spaces, but I have never considered myself claustrophobic. However, those moments make me question just how comfortable I am in tight spaces.
Lighting is everything in this movie. Sarah wakes up in the hospital early on, trying to outrun the darkness, and that persists throughout the rest of the movie. I adored how willing this movie was to be dark, and I mean that with lighting. So much of this movie is just a few pieces of light from, say a flare, or we get night vision from a camera. It sets such an intense tone and serves the setting well. A lot of horror movies are afraid to dive fully into a lack of lighting or even go too bright to show off the visuals. The Descent welcomes darkness and welcomes different ways of playing with the light the women can access. Also, even in scenes where there is more lighting, we can tell the women are in darkness. Juno sliding her hands on the wall because she can’t see during the second act is such an amazing example of that.
Last but not least, the limitations of the cave. Between Rebecca and Sam having to hide themselves in an alcove. Or them having to cross wide gaps. Or them being trapped in small spaces. Either way, the cave works against them as they attempt to fight out. There is no running away in this; the cave will not allow it. The women are constantly being challenged in how they can use their surroundings to hide or fight them to escape.
I’ve discussed before that The Descent could have been a man vs. nature horror movie fairly easily. While I love the final product and the addition of the crawlers when you look at the challenge the cave itself provides, it could have easily been the main “monster” of this horror flick. The movie uses the setting so well I continue to be impressed. Other horror movies have had great settings and not fully utilized them, and with the crawlers, The Descent could have fallen into that trap. I am so glad it didn’t.