Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter heads deep underground to revisit the subterranean scares of The Descent commentary!
When it comes to great, scary movies, horror fans have a lot of options. Some find ghosts to be terrifying, and others think serial killers are more frightening, but we can all agree that being trapped underground with pale, cannibalistic, subterranean humanoids ranks up there pretty high too. Neil Marshall’s The Descent remains one hell of a high-energy creeper even fifteen years later, and to celebrate, we’ve finally given a listen to the DVD commentary track.
The Descent (2005)
Commentators: Neil Marshall (writer/director), Shauna Macdonald (actor), Nora-Jane Noone (actor), Saskia Mulder (actor), MyAnna Buring (actor), Alex Reid (actor)
1. The opening river rafting scene is only the first of several references to Deliverance (1972) which also includes Juno’s sleeveless wetsuit top. There are also brief homages and references to The Shining (1980), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Alien (1979), The Howling (1981), Apocalypse Now (1979), Carrie (1976), and Alan Partridge.
2. That’s the cast members themselves in those whitewater scenes, and Marshall had to get approval from the film’s executive producer on an insurance policy for a quarter of a million pounds to cover the scene.
3. The little girl is played by Marshall’s niece, Molly Kayll.
4. Sarah’s early run through the hospital initially included a brief silhouette of a crawler in the shadows, but Marshall took it out as he decided against the suggestion that they’re all in Sarah’s head.
5. The pajamas that see the women bursting into laughter weren’t in the original script, but when the costume department provided them Marshall and his cast couldn’t resist having a laugh.
6. The cabin they found to film in only has one room, so they had to redress it each time they wanted to pretend otherwise.
7. The cave entrance, shown from overhead, is CG.
8. Marshall points out a face in the bottom right of the screen at 25:43 when they light the red flare… but like the actors, I don’t see a damn thing.
9. Composer David Julyan scored the film, which was ideal for Marshall as it was Julyan’s Insomnia (2002) score that he listened to on repeat while writing the script.
10. Claustrophobia is a big aspect of the film’s fear, but Marshall had no clue how many people were affected by it until he started showing the film to audiences.
11. The tight tunnel crawl around the 33:00 mark was used for several of the women’s audition scene. They did it beneath a table lined tightly with chairs.
12. The glimpse of the crawler at 47:45 was crafted so that the cast wouldn’t see it yet — he made them think he was filming them walking away but was actually capturing the creature’s profile. “Yeah, but we saw his ass,” says one of the women.
13. The night vision shot of bones at 56:10 is actually a miniature.
14. The sequence where the women see the crawler for the first time, via the night vision camera, was actually their first real glimpse of the creature. Marshall had kept the performers separate so the women wouldn’t see the costumed beasts beforehand. They had the lights off and brought the performer in, and then revealed him as the visibility returned — it went over well with screaming and running on the part of the cast.
15. Noone kept the prosthetic head made of her character and placed it in her fridge at home for her mother to find. It went over well.
16. Marshall shot many of the crawlers at 18 frames per second with a 45-degree shutter to give them a “staccato movement.”
17. There were initially scenes of the women discussing the crawlers’ possible origins in detail, but Marshall (wisely) cut it as imagined exposition doesn’t help the film.
18. The scene where Sarah finds Beth barely clinging to life originally featured some “truly shit” dialogue, and the actors let that be known. Marshall agreed, and the three went to a nearby pub the night before filming and rewrote the dialogue on a napkin. The film’s producer chewed Marshall out for it, but he also agreed the scene was vastly improved now.
19. The young performer playing the “child” crawler also plays a child zombie in 28 Days Later (2002).
20. They have their own ideas as to what the ending means for Sarah, and while Marshall points out that some people have found its downbeat ambiguity unsatisfactory he remains a fan. That’s the correct response, obviously, as the ending works beautifully and offers a rarity in its earned sadness.
21. The film is dedicated to Meg, Marshall’s beloved dog that died halfway through production.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“I do make babies cry.”
“None of them give a shit that you’re crying.”
“There’s no real caves in the movie at all.”
“Isn’t it funny how girls get sweaty cleavages?”
“Sarah has lost the plot.”
Neil Marshall and (most of) the cast of The Descent have a good time reliving the production throughout this commentary. They share memories of being cold, wet, and covered in bruises, but it’s clear all of them had a blast making this creepy classic.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.