When it comes to horror movies, people can get trapped in haunted houses, torture chambers, or graves, but caves work especially well because they have no special interest in accommodating humans at all. Cave passageways can always shrink down to nothing or go underwater or suddenly open out to a steep drop, and I can remember taking the casual trip into a cave that got thinner and thinner until the two walls began to squeeze in my ribcage with the complete indifference. Add to that pitch black darkness, and claustrophobia and feelings of entombment can affect anyone.
So, given the effectiveness of the setting, I found the British film The Descent chilling even before other creatures underground started creepy-crawling up to the six assorted young women on vacation in the Appalachians in
In the tradition of Deliverance, we see the women either gain survival skills quickly or die, and in the tradition of The Blair Witch Project, their use of a video camera heightens the bone yards and the large pools of blood that appear the deeper they go into the cave. One would think that director and writer Neil Marshall would include some semi-erotic moments, but the film gains from its no-nonsense approach to what would otherwise be a campy set-up.
Have you ever hyper-ventilated when most of your body is squeezed upside down into a tiny space, and you are trying to keep your head above a tiny pool of water, and your friend just keeps saying “Breathe, breathe!”? Who needs a race of cannibal cavemen under those conditions? And by plunging the viewer into Sarah’s traumatized and hallucinatory point of view, images of her deceased daughter transforms into snarling albino crawlers. By the end of the film, I was happy to walk out of the dark cold theater and just see daylight.