Marshall, who doesn't introduce his fearsome foes until the movie's halfway mark, ratchets up the tension slowly and effectively, aided by believable performances from his no-name cast, who inhabit their roles with gusto. He also utilizes shadows and light to highly potent effect. This is one scary, gory flick that's nearly unbearably claustrophobic.
It's also -- skills of cast and crew aside -- deeply unpleasant to sit through, not because it exploits its characters but because it's relentless in its depiction of violence and carnage. It's also deficient in characterization, with only Natalie Jackson Mendoza's Juno -- the group's putative leader who wants to prove herself as an intrepid explorer even if she endangers herself and her friends while doing so -- rising above the fray. And while the movie's special effects are disturbingly realistic, the movie doesn't offer much beyond its basic simple plot -- humans versus inhumans -- and that's nearly undone by David Julyen's overly portentous score. Marshall's cinematic talent cannot be denied, but the best horror movies offer more than just chills and blood. "The Descent" may be superior to other recent horror movies but it's all still just surface thrills. Starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, MyAnna Buring, Saskia Mulder and Nora-Jane Noone. Directed and written by Neil Marshall. Produced by Christian Colson. A Lionsgate release. Horror. Rated R for strong violence/gore and language. Running time: 99 min