Director: Neil Marshall
Starring: MyAnna Buring, Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid
Runtime: 99 minutes
Since I mentioned this movie in my last post, I figured I would focus on it today. Unlike Hostel, this movie deserves attention in its own right, not because of questions of labeling or political controversies. Simply put, I believe it to be—and I think that many critics and fans agree—one of the most well-done, significant modern horror films. Certainly it is one of the best of 2000-2010. It is a more personal film than Hostel, with strong character development, at least of the two main protagonists, Sarah and Juno. The setting—a cave in the Appalachian mountains—creates an effectively claustrophobic and nightmarish atmosphere.
It is one of the few horror films I know of—the only one I can think of at the moment—with an all-female cast. (Only one male character appears briefly, early on.) Six friends, who do thrill-seeking activities together (at the beginning, three of them are whitewater rafting), decide to go caving, largely at Juno’s (Natalie Mendoza) behest, hoping to help Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) recover from an accident after the rafting trip, in which Sarah’s husband and daughter were killed. The accident comes to be important in the tensions between these two characters. It turns out that the impulsive Juno tricked them into entering an unexplored cave—meaning they have no map to rely upon. And once they’re trapped in there, due to a cave-in, they find out they’re not alone; the cave is inhabited by ferocious, carnivorous humanoid creatures who have evolved to livee underground (they seem to only come out of the cave to hunt at night).
I don’t know that this movie fits neatly into any subgenre. The movie it reminds me of most is Night of the Living Dead, because of the claustrophobia, the tensions between characters, and the focus on a small group of people fighting a seemingly unstoppable horde of enemies. The setting itself also adds to the danger, as several accidents early in the film already create a sense of dread and suspense, before the creatures (“crawlers” as they have been dubbed) even appear. Personally, I’m not that afraid of small spaces, but the idea of caving doesn’t appeal to me—being underneath all that rock, squeezing into tight spaces, or being swallowed by wide open spaces, isn’t my idea of fun. Those scenes were perhaps more disconcerting to me than the crawlers themselves, but by the time they appear, the viewer is likely to be so worked up that you will start and scream.
And the crawlers are definitely nasty. They’re fast, they’re ugly, and they’re hungry. Having adapted to the darkness underground, they can’t see you, but they rely mostly on sound. (One would think smell too, but since they don’t seem able to sense the women when they are quiet, and must reek of blood, sweat, and fear, smell doesn’t seem to figure in.) The women are picked off one by one, but they don’t go down without a fight. Juno and Sarah prove adept at lashing back at the crawlers, but as the movie progresses, both women become more and more traumatized by the horror of what’s happening, with both performing some morally questionable actions.
The ending, in particular, reminds a lot of Night of the Living Dead, and has a similarly nihilistic quality. That’s if you see the original British version. Stupid American marketers decided to use a more hopeful ending—but then again Marshall is to blame for having filmed multiple endings. To him neither is ultimately hopeful, but the original ending packs more of a punch—in a way, it is more satisfying because it is more hopeless. I look forward to more works from Marshall, hopefully more horror—he’s not very prolific, and his comments have indicated an interest in more than horror. (His previous film, Dog Soldiers, about a squad of Scottish soldiers fighting werewolves, was more of a supernatural action movie than straight-up horror.)