As a wife and mother Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) has a seemingly idyllic life until a sudden accident rips her family away from her. That sets in motion a kind of healing reunion a year later. Her feisty friend Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid) convince Sarah to join a few other friends on a caving expedition--including Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) a butch caver who impulsively does whatever she wants and Rebecca (Saskia Mulder) an overly-cautious climber who needs to map out everything they do. Thing is this thrill-seeking challenge turns out to much more than they expected especially when they are trapped and suddenly notice white shadows squirming around them. Not good. The mostly unknown actresses in this scare fest are all decent in their Descent--and although grappling with one-dimensional characters the women still manage to convey the suffocating feeling of being confined in small spaces. In the dark dripping wet environ they deliver realistic reactions to the horror unfolding around them which is about as chilling as anyone can imagine. MacDonald as the long-suffering widow is a particular treat as she changes from a pitiful whiner to a kick-ass survivor who exacts revenge in different ways. Originally released in England British director Neil Marshall has handed us an appropriately creepy film which taps into primal fears--dark claustrophobic spaces things that go bump in the night--situations we usually see men deal with. So it's quite refreshing to watch women handle it especially in the way Marshall unravels the female camaraderie as expertly as the climbers tie their ropes. The Descent displays squirm-inducing violence that's not at all white-washed just because there are ladies involved. It's gory and brutal. The scariest moments are often obscured by the dark and in some scenes the film resorts to a Blair Witch Project point of view by watching the action through a camcorder. Although this Americanized version has a different ending from the British version (apparently one not so morbid) it's still far better than last year's abysmal The Cave. The Descent will definitely get your heart rate up!
In the sci-fi thriller 28 Days Later a psychological rage-inducing virus is unleashed the type of vile horror-movie germ that infects its victims within 20 seconds and causes them to violently spew out contagious pathogens. The bug is set free when a group of animal activists free some infected chimps from a primate research facility in London. Twenty-eight days later Jim (Cillian Murphy) a bike courier wakes up from a coma and finds himself in the deserted intensive care unit of a hospital. He eventually stumbles on to the street and from old newspaper clippings littering the streets of London realizes the foggy metropolis has been evacuated. Jim eventually hooks up with another "survivor " Selina (Naomi Harris) who brings him up to speed on what has happened: All of Britain has been contaminated and they have no way of knowing if the disease has spread worldwide. Their only salvation comes in the form of a taped broadcast message by a group of Manchester soldiers saying they have the answer to infection and invite any survivors to join them at their blockade. After a harrowing hike to the barricade and dodging attacks form rage-infected lunatics the duo thinks they have found salvation. But this armed force is not there to offer deliverance--they are a militia of out-of-control megalomaniacs ready to jump-start human civilization.
Murphy and Harris the two lead actors in the film are relatively unknown yet are capable of carrying the pic and both give strong performances that complement each other. Murphy's character Jim for example first awakens in the hospital lost and confused--but by the end of the film he emerges as a leader a champion. This change however isn't triggered by any one incident and we never feel blindsided by his heroic transformation. Harris's character Selina on the other hand starts off hardened and pessimistic but gradually lets her guard down. Alone her only goal was survival. But when she hooks up with Jim her aspirations change not only because of the friendship they develop but because he is able to make her see that surviving simply isn't enough that as humans beings they also need freedom and happiness. And although Selina develops a somewhat softer side in the film she is never a helpless victim waiting to be rescued by the film's male protagonist. Another important character in the film is Hannah played by Megan Burns. Hannah is a young girl that Jim and Selina scoop up in their northbound trek to the military blockade. Burns who made her feature debut in the 2001 period drama Liam is an excellent addition to the cast and her character adds a touching and personal element to the gruesome storyline.
Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) delivers a post-apocalyptic horror film an homage of sorts to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead in which an army of dead bodies comes to life and terrorizes a group of friends trapped inside a farmhouse. Although 28 Days Later--from The Beach author Alex Garland's debut screenplay--tells a different tale the grainy shaky camera work is very derivative of the 1968 cult pic. Shot entirely on digital video the film has a gritty appearance that makes it look and feel like a shocking documentary rather than a sci-fi feature. Boyle also uses low light levels and strobe effects to conceal the movie's cheesy low-tech special effects--specifically the flock of red contact lens wearing zombies. But despite its cost-cutting optical effects this contemporary horror has the power to shock and frighten because the protagonist's most dangerous adversaries not only come in the form of frightening flesh-eaters but militiamen in fatigues. 28 Days Later's most striking sequences however are the warily calm opening scenes in which Jim wanders through the streets of London--crossing Westminster Bridge and reading the bulletin board at Piccadilly Circus--without a body in sight. Blocking off the busy streets of such a compact bustling city had to be Boyle's most ambitious undertaking in the film's production.