Archive for September 22nd, 2010

(Neil Marshall, 2005)

(essay by Troy)

The story in Neil Marshall’s film begins with Sarah, who loses her husband and daughter in a car accident.  We pick up one-year later as Alpha-female Juno (who was having an affair with Sarah’s husband) has gathered Sarah and four other women to go on a spelunking excursion in the Appalachians.  The only problem is Juno has taken them to an unmapped cave with the hope that they can gloriously discover the cave themselves in an attempt to fix past wounds (and obviously, her guilt at sleeping with her friend’s husband has something to do with this feeling of setting things back the way they were).  The six women enter the cave and first have to deal with interpersonal squabbles and the natural trials of cave diving before finding that there may be something much more unsettling lurking deep within.

The structure of the film is of interest here, as it attempts to provide the best of both worlds.  The first 50 minutes are spent building dread, tension, and atmosphere, adding in the psychological horror that stems from losing a loved one (think Don’t Look Now), while the last 45 minutes are unabashed adrenaline soaked survival horror, with all hell breaking loose just as soon as the women think things have gotten as bad as they possibly can.

The cave functions as a fantastic setting to get the ultimate tension and horror out of the circumstances.  Marshall uses the ambient light sources the women use to illuminate the darkness, playing with our viewpoint of what we can see if we just squint hard enough.  He also chooses to employ a 2.35:1 scope, yet manages to keep the moments in the cave tight and extremely claustrophobic, most notably when Sarah gets stuck in an extremely narrow opening, causing panic for both her and the viewer.  In many ways, these early tension points with the women getting stuck, suffering a cave-in, and having to cross a giant chasm evoke fear without any need of monsters and are more fraught with fear than the horrific events that follow. (more…)

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