6/11/09

B.L.O.G Presents the Women of The Descent

Hello and welcome to the first B.L.O.G entry of June, and today is going to be a little bit different than normal because we don’t have one woman this week. Nope, to kick off this month decided to go with all six of….


Since The Descent is a movie that I adore, I’m not going to waste your precious time gushing over how good it is. Let’s just say that back when The Vault of Horror was polling for the best horror movies of the last 15 years, it came up at number one on my list, and ultimately it came up number one overall. (Beating out one of my least favorite films, The Blair Witch Project) So, needless to say, but if this was a regular review it would close out with a big 5 bugs. I guess that just in case anyone is not familiar with this flick I should give a short synopsis. I’ll keep it brief. 

A group of girls get together to do some spelunking in the Appalachian Mountains and catching up on old times.  Unfortunately, they end up in the wrong cave with nowhere to go but down, and the deeper they get, the more obvious it becomes that they are not alone. Very not alone. 

Sound simple doesn’t it, deceptively simple. Yes what could have been a film about a bunch of model hot chicks in a cave actually ends up being a complex tale. The girls are all connected. They each have a past, with each other and without. Some are troubled, some are thrill seekers, some are really bitchy, but they are all very real and very well written. So this simple concept becomes quite complex once you add in these characters. Sure they are being perused by crazy cave dwelling folk, but it causes them to deal with themselves and each other. 

Thankfully, the actresses charged with the roles were up to the task. So that’s what we’re here to talk about today, each of the six main gals. I wanted to know where they came from, and where they are now. Oh, and who the hell is showing up in The Descent 2! Well, more on that later on for now let’s start with….

Shauna Macdonald deserved an award for her role as the emotionally scarred Sarah. Sure, she has an easy time playing on out sympathies, after all, who’s going to talk smack about a girl who lost her husband and kid in a car crash, but Macdonald takes the role beyond that. We see Sarah go from a mess to a badass in two hours, and I believed every moment. 

The Malaysian born and Scottish raised Macdonald started out her career in small parts in British TV and film, but then she landed a big role in the popular series Spooks (a.k.a. MI-5 to American audiences). It was right after her role on the show ended that she made The Descent, and since has appeared in several short films as well as the 2008 release Mutant Chronicles. Thankfully, Macdonald will be back again soon in The Descent 2 reprising her role as Sarah. I’ll be honest. I’m just not sure how a sequel to this fine film is going to be, but I’m willing to give director Neil Marshall the benefit of the doubt because I want to know what really happened to Sarah after the credits rolled. 

Also returning in The Descent 2 will be Natalie Mendoza. Her character Juno was either the girl you love to hate or someone you should really feel sorry for. I’ve watched this film dozens of times and I’m still not sure. That stems from how great Mendoza is in this flick. Her character adds an additional layer in to me, the hierarchy of a group of girls. Not being a girl, I have no idea what happens when they get together in groups, but I expect that just like men people fall right into roles, so do women. Juno is the bad girl and plays it to the hilt, but does she like it?

Natalie Mendoza started her career on the stage, and much of her early work is in musicals, well, and the Beastmaster TV series. She also appeared in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! as China Doll after she lost the lead to Nichole Kidman. What a different movie that would have been, and who knows if Mendoza would have joined the cast of The Descent if she had landed the part. In recent years, she had made a few films, but most notably appeared in the popular British show Hotel Babylon

Then we get to Alex Reid who has arguably the best death scene in the film. (Oops. Spoiler Alert. Some of the girls die.) It’s quick, surprising, and has probably the highest level of emotional impact of any of the dispatching put to celluloid here. Beth has the least dynamic role in the film (unless you count getting a pickaxe to the head as character development), and her character never gets to rise above being Sarah’s babysitter. However her presence (and departure) as Sarah’s friend and guardian is one of the most critical facets of the film. 

Alex started out in bit parts including one episode of the Tia Carrera series Relic Hunter before landing a role in the British series Ultimate Force. Since The Descent Mrs. Reid has appeared in several films including 2007’s Jetsum with Shauna Macdonald. Alex and Shauna will be paring up again this year as Beth returns in The Descent 2 as well. 

When you’re climbing way too far into a cave you aren’t supposed to be in, then you should be happy to have a gal like Rebecca around. Played by Saskia Mulder, Rebecca tries her best to keep the girls aware of their surroundings, but unfortunately, all the safety plans in the world won’t help you when you have cannibalistic cave dwellers coming for you. However when it comes to free climbing across a cavern, then this is the girl to call. I'm a person who doesn’t care for heights, small spaces, or total darkness, and The Descent manages to combine all of these things. The first time I watched Mulder’s Rebecca make that climb, I thought I was going to have a panic attack. 

Born in Holland, Mulder got her first role in the Norwegian series Onderweg naar morgan. Over the years she landed bit roles in films like The Beach and a reoccurring part of the Scottish series The Book Group. After her role as Rebecca, she returned to the Netherlands and continued working in both TV and film. Now in 2009, like the rest of the girls, she will appear in The Decent 2

Now speaking of things that are useful when going on a doomed cave exploration, a doctor, or even, almost a doctor would top my list, and that’s what we have in Rebecca’s Sister Sam played by Myanna Buring. Sure, she’s the least competent explorer but, I don’t know about you folks, if I have to help along the person who might stand between my life and death, well, I’m sure as hell going to help them along. Sam never really gets much of a fair shake as a character, but her moments on screen are not wasted. 

The Decent was Myanna’s first film role with only small TV parts on her resume. Since then she’s appeared in small roles in Grindhouse (the Don’t trailer) and the Omen remake. She also worked for Marshall again when she landed a role in 2008’s Doomsday. 2009 will be a big year for Myanna because not only will she be back in Descent 2, but also the highly anticipated (by people who like films with terrible but titillating titles) Lesbian Vampire Killers

Last, but not least,. Nora Jane Noone’s Holly is the outsider of the group, an addition brought on by Juno's whims. The tough girl is fun to watch and sly, but when she manages to break her leg in two, you find out  what you get for being a thrill seeker, kids. Certain though not instantaneous death surely awaits you.  

Noone started her career with a starring role in The Magdalene Sisters, a drama about three girls in an asylum. She followed that up with a mall rolea in Ella Enchanted and a couple of short films. Post-The Descent, Noone also appeared in Marshall’s Doomsday as well as Beyond the Rave and Legend of the Bog. Currently she has two big projects on the books for 2009 as she pops up in The Descent 2 as well as the remake of The Day of the Triffids. 

So there we have it, the six ladies of The Descent, and soon to be of The Descent 2. Each of these women made this movie special. While the script was tightly paced and the claustrophobic shots perfectly conveyed the hopelessness of their situation, none of this would have been possible if the right mix of actresses had not appeared in the roles. The characters of The Descent are the hearty and soul of this film. It goes back to what I said earlier, this is a deceptively simple film. It could have been exploitative crap, but instead we get one of the finest horror flicks in the last few years. Wow I made it though a review of The Descent and all the hot ladies without making a “going down” joke. Wait….did I just type that out loud? Oops. 




5 comments:

  1. I loved THE DESCENT and am interested in seeing what the original has to offer but aren't most of the returning actresses going to have problems returning as anything other than slightly mangled props?

    Or are they going to be Force Ghosts like Obi Wan and Yoda?

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  2. You really wet my appetite, I will have to resee The decent before I see the sequal

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  3. Holly didn't lead them to the wrong cave. Juno did. She didn't forget the map, because there was no map for that system.

    Other than that, kudos to bringing more attention to The Descent. Awesome flick.

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  4. Thanks for all the comments. Yeah, Al. I wondered that myself. I guess they're going on the premise that Sarah got out, and I assume the other girls will appear in flashbacks or hallucinations.

    Thanks for the kind words Rachel and the link over at your site.

    NE, I knew I would make an error somewhere. I lost this while writeup and had to start over very late last night. So thanks for catching my flub, it's fixed now.

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  5. I am looking forward ti seeing the sequel. Unfortunately, it seems that they went with the U.S. ending. But I will keep an open mind.

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