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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the violence in the movie is visceral and bloody. A car accident puts spikes through a character's head (visible from the rear) and kills a child (off-screen). Once inside the very small-spaced cave, the women argue and show fear (in alarming scenes conveying subjective states). The monsters are gruesome, both pasty and slimy, as well as vicious. Some characters lie to each other, but the reasons are more complicated than in most horror films.
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What's the story?
In the beginning of THE DESCENT, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is an athletic, good-natured wife, mom, and best friend to whitewater rafting buddies Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid). Within minutes, however, that life is over, as a car accident leaves Sarah alone and traumatized. A year later, Sarah's girlfriends convince her to join them cave-exploring in the Appalachian Mountains, to help her recover from her loss. The spelunking group includes spunky-punky Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) and goodhearted sisters Rebecca (Saskia Mulder) and Sam (MyAnna Buring). When a tunnel cave-in blocks their way out and Sarah seems to be haunted by her daughter's voice, the group begins to worry; things get worse when they're confronted by monsters deep in the darkness. Soon, the adventurers are fighting for their lives against "crawlers," blind, gnarly creatures with fearsome teeth and very bendable backbones.
Is it any good?
Equal parts yucky, scary, and delirious, The Descent is also clever about its limits, and chilling in its effects. It sets up a specific emotional situation for its protagonist, then turns it inside out, with the help of especially daunting monsters. Suddenly, Sarah can no longer be focused only on her own despair, but must face the worst external threats imaginable.
While the plot is straightforward and eventually predictable -- women in a terrible place get scared, get assaulted in terrible ways, and get tough -- the film is also about trust and betrayal, as well as surprising sources of strength. Exaggerating the usual horror movie gambit, the movie invites you to reconsider genre-based expectations. Sarah finds in herself an unexpected ferocity and an almost frightening determination to endure. What's smart about the movie is that it makes her survival costly. While she's relieved to be alive, she's also horrified by her own change.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the sense of loss embodied by Sarah, whose family dies in a car crash before the main action. How are the women's friendships tested by their increasing horrific circumstances? They could also talk about the popularity of horror movies: Why do we love to be scared? Does this one break any new ground in the genre?