The Descent Neil Marshall

With a premise that reeks of mining 2005’s sci-fi stinker The Cave, as well as the plethora of films that delve into "dark and dreary uncharted territory,” this British-made horror may seem unforgivably derivative but it’s a surprisingly inventive and bracing example of "kill or be killed” cinema.

Following a devastating accident that severely changes the life of Sarah (Shauna McDonald), a group of six female friends reunite at a remote cottage a year later for a caving expedition getaway. Led by the fearless Juno (Natalie Mendoza), the friends enter a cave that unbeknownst to them, has never been discovered. As they begin to lose confidence in their abilities and find themselves losing their way underground, cracks begin to form in their relationships — but that’s the least of their worries. Stalking them is an army of unidentifiable, blind, subhuman creatures (thankfully not anything close to an H.R. Giger alien clone) bent on making a meal out of the women, which turns their quest for escaping into a bloody battle for survival.

Marshall’s second feature film refreshingly breathes new life into an old concept with a script that boasts only one man — who unluckily gets decapitated in the opening sequence — and leaves the door open for a female-driven adventure that isn’t degrading, unlike most horrors. Sure, there are some moments where you wonder just where these characters learned their fighting skills, but the fact that they have no one else to depend on reinforces its plausibility. Marshall’s use of constant darkness is also well executed, especially in capturing the lurking menace and bucket-loads of gore, which in the light could easily look substandard.

Even more impressive though, is the creature. So often a film of this style is spoiled simply because not enough consideration went into the look of the threatening monster. Designing something minimal and human-looking may seem like taking the easy route but it’s more believable that these are simply forgotten, un-evolved beasts looking for lunch.

Overall, this is a visually stunning and exhilarating horror flick that will leave you guessing what exactly happened long after its final shot. (Pathé/Maple)