The Descent

Rated 3.0

Six adventure-loving women go exploring an uncharted cave in North Carolina, where one crisis follows another. Writer-director Neil Marshall lets us know right off the bat that anything goes, and no scare is too sudden (or too cheap) to pull on us; this allows him to establish an atmosphere of nerve-wracking anxiety without actually having to develop any dramatic suspense, and every move of the camera generates white knuckles and an inward grimace of dread. It’s nasty, unpleasant and sadistic but brutally efficient and undeniably effective. Marshall tinkers with psychological drama, but only half-heartedly; the two central characters are never more complex than “the British blond widow” (Shauna Macdonald) and “the Asian-American lesbian” (Natalie Mendoza), while the other four are mere ciphers.