At its best (or worst, depending on your perspective), horror taps into our most basic, most elemental, and most primal of fears. No fear is more basic, more elemental, or more primal than fear of the dark. As our ancient ancestors learned, what you don't see can most certainly, definitively cause you grievous bodily harm, up to and including dismemberment and/or a painful, excruciating death. Add to that primal fear of the dark a labyrinthine cave system, lost spelunkers, and cannibalistic mutants and you get something like Neil Marshall's ('Centurion,''Doomsday,''Dog Soldiers') second (and, so far, best) film, 'The Descent.' Released in the UK and Europe in 2005, but not released stateside until the following summer (with an alternate ending no less), 'The Descent' is survival horror at its most compelling (and terrifying, of course).
Like Steven Spielberg three decades earlier with 'Jaws,' Marshall smartly saved the big reveal, the mutants who pose said grievous threat to the lost spelunkers at the center of 'The Decent,' until close to the halfway mark. Marshall instead focuses on the spelunkers, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza), Beth (Alex Reid), Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), Sam (MyAnna Buring), and Holly (Nora-Jane Noone). Onetime best friends and extreme sports enthusiasts, Sarah and Juno's friendship has frayed since the death of Sarah's husband and daughter in a car accident. Juno hopes spending their vacation exploring caves in the Appalachian Mountains will help repair their relationship. She's wrong, of course.