Media - Film - The Descent (2006)
The Descent is the first piece of media that I have looked at that takes a turn at working on a narrative somewhat similar to my own intended work. This all female cast of 6 thrill seekers opens clearly as a tale of trauma; after a day white water rafting with her friends, Sarah gets into a tragic car accident that claims the life of her husband and daughter. Their deaths are sudden, loud and graphic, as metal pipes from an oncoming van pierce through the windshield and their persons. By the time Sarah wakes up in the hospital, both are dead, and the narrative jumps forward a year. The girls are getting back together for another Adrenalin rush, with a trauma lain Sarah joining up for the first time.
Naturally, things get off on the wrong foot as Juno, a woman who had been having an affair with Sarah's husband and the defacto leader admits to taking them to an unexplored cave system, rather than the one they reported to the authorities that they would be exploring. While in the caves, Sarah suffers a variety of triggers to her car accident trauma: water droplets in the cave sound like whispers, and the shifting of rocks and debris come fast and furious. She suffers from trauma induced panic attacks as well, as she gets caught in a narrow tunnel that she cannot get through initially. After prodding from her understanding friend Beth, she starts to move but winds up triggering a cave collapse. When the dust settles, the women have no choice but to regroup and head farther into the unknown cave system to desperately search for a way out.
The moments of highest tension in the film build in this portion of the film: A deep crevice divides the tunnel, forcing members of the party to painstakingly place climbing gear with less ropes than they had hoped. This section of the film is paced incredibly slowly, making the audience's own state of arousal highten with each piece of climbing gear added, removed or clipped into. All members of the party make it to the other side, and even find old fashioned climbing gear, insinuating that this cave had been explored at one point. They keep moving, and the headstrong, energetic character (who is clearly coded as a lesbian) rushes ahead when she sees light at the end of a tunnel, falling victim to a hole in the floor. In some ways, her on screen fate of a compound fracture is worse than if she had a dissappearing death. They make you watch as her leg is reset, and you watch her struggle with her friends through more tunnels to try to find a way out. This is when the film loses all of its tension, with the addition of BatBoy inspired cave creatures.
There's no point in recounting the events that follow, though it is worth mentioning that all but two of the characters die in a variety of campy slasher flick methods. The CGI is bad, and even if the Special Effects Makeup is decent, it does not make up for the overall loss of tension in the piece. Sarah stops demonstrating much in the way of PTSD now that she has landed back in the middle of an ongoing traumatic event. She shuts off her emotions and, alongside Juno, becomes a power house final girl, killing monsters left and right.
Ultimately it is a shame that this interesting, diverse narrative spirals out of control into a typical monster flick, as the tension and demonstration of PTSD in the first half was nuanced and interesting. The different environmental factors and situations that give the audience a sense of unease are all over the place, in the dripping walls of the cave, the sounds of unsettled rock, even the unnatural tamber to the voices in the dead air of the cave. Shadow and light are well utilized for the realistic portion of the film, and the diagetic lighting techniques used are varied and interesting without feeling forced (something that the second half of the film begins to ignore entirely). These fears and moments would be the ones that I want to emulate for my game, as they work with the narrative and the mechanics of available actions within a cave system. It feels organic and realistically scary. If this movie ever got remade without the monster angle, I would be up for a new viewing, immediately.