Wednesday, June 8, 2011

150 Days of Halloween: The Descent and Martytrs

The heat continues to be unbearable, and I continue to hide on the lower floors in an attempt to escape it. It is only kind of working thus far, but is preferable to baking in my room I suppose.

In site news, have a stumble button added to the site now, so if you are a Stumble Addict like me, feel free to slap that button and spread the love. If you are looking to expand your stumble follow base, then feel free to follow me and shoot me a message on Stumble. I'm always looking to expand the number of people who's Stumbles I see and who can see mine. It can ruin my productivity like nothing else, but it never fails to provide interesting links.

Alright, enough site news and whoring, onto the past two horror movies! Brace yourself for a whole lot of text!

The Descent

The Descent was hailed as a savior the year of its release. After years of bland retreads, remakes, and generally uninspired horror films this movie arrived with an original story, an all female cast, and good looking creature effects. It was sadly less the second coming people wanted, the industry continued to pump out terrible horror movies, and The Descent went on to be largely forgotten in the wake of film franchises that had six or more movies under the title. The direct to DVD sequel also didn't help matters, but we won't get into that. Despite not revolutionizing the entire industry the way some people had hoped, the movie is still a great film deserving of its high praise.

What normal groups of friends do. From a skull.
The movie opens with a group of friends finishing up a white water rafting trip, they are clearly close, joking around and having a good time. We do have a moment where it appears one of these friends may be a bit too close to another woman's husband, but the moment is fleeting and soon everyone is saying goodbyes and parting ways. Up until now, which hasn't been very long, it wasn't clear who the main character was, that all changes with a violent car crash.

With the death of her husband and daughter hanging over her head, Sarah suffers from what could best be described as post traumatic stress disorder, a crippling from of anxiety. Her life has fallen apart as she emerges as the protagonist, and time passes. When things pick back up, a year has passed and Sarah is starting to readjust to the world, and her friends want to help, so they put together a trip to go caving, assuring her its a fairly safe and documented site.

Once they get down into the caves things of course start to go wrong and it becomes clear that these are not the caves they thought they were. People begin to panic, mistakes get made, and creatures are hunting them for food in the darkness.
Don't worry, he just needs directions.
The films success is largely thanks to the setting, the caves are oppressively claustrophobic, a wall is always in frame, bearing down on the characters. What the tight interiors start, the darkness finishes, the characters can barely see, and we are no better off. When the attacks come they appear out of the cloak of darkness and shatter the group, keeping everyone afraid and separated. It is remarkably effective at keeping the audience on edge just as much as it does the characters.

Those are of course great elements to have in a horror movie, but the reason why it works just as well as it does is thanks to the cast. The movie takes its time before the caves, letting you watch these friends be together. You know who feels guilt, who feels protective, who is dismissive, you know these people and the relationships they have. It raises the intensity dramatically, especially as mistakes get made in the darkness and trust begins to decay.

If you like monster movies, then this is a grade A experience for you, but if you prefer your horror to come in the form of a man-like thing with a knife killing giggling co-eds, then this may not be the movie for you. Few films come as close as this one did to the claustrophobia and fear of Alien.

Before we begin, this is a hard movie to watch, and a harder movie to write about without giving anything essential away. I did my best below to limit spoilers but its not perfect, honestly I would urge you to watch the movie first, so long as you can handle violence, gore, and bad things happening to good people. If you HAVE seen it before, or can't stomach that kind of thing, then please read on for my thoughts. To contrast with the wildly dark movie, enjoy my whimsical picture captions!
Heee, it looks like they are reading my disclaimer.
Martyrs continues the trend of visceral and uncomfortable French horror films that has been common for the past few years. High Tension being the first one to pop up, by my memory at least, its possible this goes back further. At times it seems like French directors saw American films like Saw and Hostel and took the concepts they saw further, while dressing the experience in something much more human and immediate.

The experience would have been much different if this were under American direction, especially the ending. In Saw the suffering of characters is foil for redemption, these characters have, in essence, sinned and are now atoning. The villain in the movie is a twisted christ figure looking to save the lost in his own warped way. In Hostel, and many 70's exploitation films, the suffering happens to upset the audience and gear them up for the last act of the film, where we watch the tables turn on the villains. The satisfaction of revenge is central to many American movies, and it is interesting how this cultural lens colors the experience of watching Martyrs.

Lets rewind a moment, don't worry, we'll get to the point I was alluding to above soon, but lets first get into the movie a bit more.
Its... its not a very happy movie.
Martyrs opens with a young injured girl running through an industrial park screaming for help, which she soon finds. We watch as she is rescued and is placed in a group home where she isolates herself and withdraws from everyone but one young girl. They become inseparable, her one friend becoming a guardian of sorts. They grow up together, one a scarred individual haunted by the events of her past which manifest as a tortured creature that seeks to harm her, and the other a firm and loving friend who cares for her as best she can.

This creates a very dramatic relationship when the girl finds who she believes may be her torturers, and guns them and their children down. What would you do in that situation? Your friend, who you grew up protecting and promising you would keep safe just gunned down a husband, wife, and two young children. She swears they were the ones who hurt her all those years ago, do you accept this and try to help her through the situation? Call the police? What if you find one of those people still clinging to life?

Its all incredibly tense as the events unfold, making you believe the title of the movie refers to the sacrifices made in this friendship. Visceral as well, nothing happens off camera and the violence is all incredibly realistic and brutal. The film wants you to be uncomfortably aware of the pain everyone is experiencing, be it physical, emotional, or mental.
Something you don't want to open your front door to find. This and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Its hard to talk about this movie without giving much away, this isn't a straightforward narrative by any means, once you get comfortable the movie will yank the rug out from under you and change everything up. The first half of the movie that I just loosely described to you is entirely different from the second half, and will change everything you thought you knew about what the title of the movie means. The two halves of the movie could honestly be two separate short films they are so wildly desperate from one another, it really is kind of shock as it happens.

A lot of brutal punishment is met out against a character, and the entire time I was anxiously waiting for the reversal. It welled up inside of me until it was unbearable, when would she break loose and make them pay!? The cinematography plays with this notion constantly, framing situations so you can see the opening for the tables to turn. As someone raised on revenge driven movies, I was waiting for that inevitable comeuppance, the tides to change and our hero to win her freedom and dole out swift justice. It was an expectation that was preyed upon with expert precision by the film, manipulating me the whole time. The moment never came, and I actually felt betrayed in a way, which was the films ultimate victory.

This is one intense film, visually as well as in the narrative. It wants you to be uncomfortable and contemplative of the events on screen, but mostly uncomfortable. If you enjoy movies that upset you, or make you feel a bit sick, then I would certainly urge you to seek this movie out and give it a go. So long as you are fine with the various forms of violence found throughout.
"These aren't my glasses!"
That's That!

If you made it through all of that, then I applaud your stamina! Normally its one movie per post, but I found myself seeing X-Men: First Class last night instead of writing up my thoughts on The Descent. If your curious, then yes, the rumors are true about First Class. It's an actually good X-men film! Sure it has its own cannon and timeline, so if you wanted something the sticks close to the comics or the continuity of the last films, then you will be disappointed. However, as a stand alone experience, it is very enjoyable.

Tomorrow is Inside, and I'll do my best to post that one on time! As always, if you want to see the full list of 150 horror movies with links to each review/rant/opinion, then check it out here.


  1. i love the decent films, they are so awesomely scary :D

  2. Descent is one of the best and original i've seen in a long time.

    Marthyr is a poem to horror and the finale is awesome!

  3. I swear I've seen the Descent. I just can't place it and I don't know why.

  4. thought the ending in the decent ruined the film

  5. This is awesome! Can't wait for more posts

  6. kxxthanxx: if by "ruined" you mean made it awesome, then i agree with you entirely!

  7. watched descent years ago, it was great - i remember there were two endings

  8. It's been a long time since I last watch thriller movies.

  9. The Descent poster is inspired in a work by Dali, or maybe in Silence of the Lambs.

  10. I'm so bad with scary movies.

  11. The descent was really scary which I today watched from here .